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Minnesota lawmakers visit Rochester to address rising prescription drug costs

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — Minnesotans are making their voices heard on pressing issues at House Mini-Sessions held in Rochester, Winona, and other surrounding communities this week. The last series was held 22 years ago; the hearings are only informational, no votes take place. The topics include agriculture, childcare, clean energy, property taxes, and workforce development.

“Our point is to get out and give more people an opportunity to interact with the legislature,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, (DFL) Rochester who chairs the Health and Human Finance Division.

Liebling led a mini-session focused on lowering prescription drug prices at the University of Minnesota Rochester campus on Wednesday.

“We lead in so many areas we just have to step up on this one. No one should die for a lack of insulin,” she said, referencing Alex Smith, a 26-year-old Minnesota resident who died because he could not afford the life-saving medication.

Dr. Vincent Rajkumar, a professor at Mayo Clinic, says three factors unique to the United States drive up costs: the reimbursement system encourages more expensive options, the law blocks Medicare —the biggest buyer of pharmaceuticals — from bargaining power, and there’s a ban on individuals bringing drugs across the border.

Mayo Clinic health experts say not-for-profit generic drug companies could lead the way in cutting those costs.

“By working with thousands of other hospitals we can gain that scale and have enough market power to do that,” said Eric Tichy, Mayo Clinic’s Vice-Chair of Pharmacy Supply, who gave an overview of Civica, a non-profit pharmaceutical company which was founded to address drug shortages and high prices.

Other ideas on the table include pricing prescription drugs based on how long they extend life and leveling the playing field for independent pharmacies competing against big chains.

“They’re killing us on the reimbursement rate and then they’ll send us faxes asking us if we want to sell our pharmacy to them. It’s ridiculous,” said independent pharmacy owner Deborah Keaveny.

The session also triggered criticism about top-level resignations and reported misspending at the Department of Human Services.

“We feel that this is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said House minority leader Rep. Kurt Daudt, (R) Crown during a press conference before the meeting. “We’ve been asking for answers and demanding information for months and we’ve been getting nothing.”

Democrats say the new commissioner needs time to investigate.

“It isn’t meaningful to put a new person in place and expect her to know everything and have solved everything right away,” said Liebling.

Click here to view the Mini Session agenda.

Linda Ha

Reporter | @LindaHaTV | lha@kttc.com

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