Health sector must unite to prevent legislative malpractice

If laws stifle innovation, patient care suffers. 

Until last week, a collection of bills advancing Democrats’ extreme agenda to transform Minnesota’s health care system had been quietly advancing through the legislative process. Then news broke that the Mayo Clinic had sent an email to DFL legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz warning that, if two policies become law, Mayo will redirect billions in planned investments to other states.

Mayo’s ultimatum reflects the broader reality of what will happen to Minnesota’s health system if the full package of far-left policies become law. Together, they collect the worst of top-down, government-knows-best regulations and will cement Minnesota’s position as the most tightly regulated health care state, undermining future investment and innovation to deliver better patient care.

Unfortunately, patients have no idea what is coming because every major player in the health sector has focused on protecting its own turf and otherwise has kept quiet. Worse, they’ve turned on each other in a blame game trying to deflect the damage from DFL policies onto other players. Like most circular firing squads, it’s not gone well.

Early on, the Association for Accessible Medicines, which represents generic drug manufacturers, urged legislators to remove price controls on generics from a bill and, instead, focus on high-cost brand-name drugs.

To defend branded drug manufacturers against price caps in the same bill, their lobbying arm PhRMA highlighted how insurers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) contribute to higher drug costs. PhRMA even itemized several top-down government regulations legislators should impose on these players.

Eventually, the Minnesota Council of Health Plans — the PBM’s cobelligerent against PhRMA — weighed in against the drug manufacturers with unequivocal support for drug price controls.

Not to be left out, doctors represented by the Minnesota Medical Association expressed qualified support for a public-option health plan to compete against private health plans. This means defunding reinsurance, a program that became a national model when it reduced individual market premiums to the lowest in the country in 2019.

The Minnesota Hospital Association largely kept out of this fray, merely opposing policies that directly affect their members’ operations. This includes the two troublesome policies Mayo identified: a requirement on hospitals to establish nurse staffing and workload committees, and the establishment of a Health Care Affordability Board empowered to set and enforce limits on the cost of care.

Though hospitals didn’t join the circular firing squad, their quiet voice kept Minnesotans in the dark about the serious risks these DFL policies pose to patients.

It’s taken a leaked email from Mayo to sound the alarm in the final weeks of session. More recently, 68 leaders from Minnesota nonprofit hospitals issued a statement on how DFL regulations “would negatively impact hospital care.”

But where were they in January when public pressure could have been more effective? More important, now, where are they on all the other damaging regulations Democrats plan across the rest of Minnesota’s health system?

To review, Democrats want a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to impose price controls that will reduce access to lifesaving drug innovations; a new unelected bureaucracy to enforce cost-growth limits on providers and push them to ration care; costly coverage mandates to micromanage health plan designs; committees to put nurses in charge of prioritizing themselves over patients; a public option to undercut private health plans; and a repeal of the state’s nation-leading reinsurance program.

Hospitals, doctors, drug manufacturers, PBMs and health plans should all share the same concerns over what’s happening at the Legislature. Time and again government actions to set prices, micromanage private companies and design consumer products have ended up stifling innovation. In health care, less innovation means lower-quality patient care.

It’s time for the health sector to stop pointing fingers and start joining hands to educate and protect patients against what Democrats and Gov. Walz are pushing at the Capitol.

This article originally appeared in the Star Tribune on May 15, 2023.