MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A massive $15 billion Health and Human Services package is moving forward at the Minnesota State Capitol.

The House passed the bill Friday, which impacts — among other things — health care, prescription drug prices and raises the legal age to purchase tobacco.

“This is a bill that’s going to control health care costs in the state,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, (D) Rochester.

The sweeping 1,100-page budget passed by House Democrats is moving forward with mixed reviews

“This significantly increases the cost of health care,” said Rep. Anne Neu, (R) Chisago County.

The massive package includes plans to crack down on prescription drug prices, which has bipartisan support.

“We will leverage the buying power of the entire state to drive down prices,” Liebling said.

It also includes provisions to make sure people will have access to life-saving medications, even if they can’t afford them

“We’ve seen products like insulin just skyrocket in price for no reason at all,” Liebling said.

And it would change the age to buy tobacco to 21

“We know that smoking increases the cost of health care,” Neu said. “That is a concern.”

One sticking point is a proposed extension of a 2% tax on patient health services. Democrats we spoke to say it funds critical services, and that the cost is picked up by providers.

“Our rural hospitals really depend on that tax being present,” Liebling said.

But Republicans we spoke to tell us that cost is actually passed on to consumers.

“It’s called a provider tax, but of course anyone knows that a tax is a tax,” Neu said. “The provider is not absorbing that tax, the individual is absorbing the tax.”

The Senate will pass its own Health and Human Services bill by Thursday, which will likely look very different. After the Senate completes its bill, committees from House and Senate will meet and negotiate a plan. They are up against the May 20 end-of-session deadline. If they cannot agree on a budget by then, this could go into a special session.

Erin Hassanzadeh

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