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Conference committee agreement with consumer protections, anti-price gouging provisions headed to governor

Rep. Zack Stephenson presents the commerce conference committee report on the House Floor May 17. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)
Rep. Zack Stephenson presents the commerce conference committee report on the House Floor May 17. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) could barely contain his excitement.

“This is a phenomenal bill that we can all be very proud of. It achieves things that have been long sought by people in this body and outside these walls and I am excited that they will finally become law,” he said Wednesday about the conference committee report on the commerce finance and policy bill.

It would set a $834.7 million 2024-25 biennial budget for the Department of Commerce and institute new policies that Stephenson said would put in place long-overdue consumer protections.

Creation of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board, he said, would “make meaningful change to bring down the cost of drugs that people need to live. People should not be choosing between paying the mortgage and paying for the drugs they need to live, or rationing the health care that they need and dying because of it.”

MN House debates SF2744 conference report 5/17/23

The House adopted the report and repassed the bill 69-59 Wednesday. The Senate did the same 35-32 in the early morning hours. It will now go to Gov. Tim Walz, who has said he will sign it.

Stephenson sponsors HF2680/SF2744* with Sen. Matt Klein (DFL-Mendota Heights), who said in a statement, “I am especially proud of the opportunity to create the Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which will finally stand up against runaway profits in the pharmaceutical industry. No Minnesotan should be denied access to lifesaving primary care or essential medication because of spiraling out-of-pocket costs.”

[MORE: View budget agreement spreadsheet]

Republicans do not agree that the final product is “phenomenal.”

Rep. Danny Nadeau (R-Rogers) took issue with the task given to the board, saying it would be ineffective, and DFLers who believe government can play a role in driving down drug costs are misguided.

“In health care, it just doesn’t happen that way,” he said.

Other Republican objections focused on provisions prohibiting price-gouging, which specify that prices jumping more than 25% to take advantage of product scarcities after a government-declared emergency such as a natural disaster would be deemed “unconscionably excessive” and prohibited.

“Instead of protecting consumers, it just gives more power to the governor,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch). “It would invite lawsuits without actually controlling prices or improving supplies.”

Other policy provisions in the bill include:

  • fortifying laws regarding deceptive trade practices;
  • prohibiting boat insurance contracts from excluding coverage for family members;
  • establishing the Digital Fair Repair Act;
  • allowing a life insurance company to deny a death benefit only if the insured dies within one year of the issuance of the policy; current law permits a two-year exclusion;
  • requiring health plans to limit patient co-pays to no more than $25 per one-month supply for prescription drugs used to treat chronic diseases;
  • establishing a student loan advocate to educate students on educational loans; and
  • prohibiting lenders from collecting on loans made under coercion by a third party, such as a domestic abuser.

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