Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Mankato Free Press. September 10, 2023.

Editorial: Common sense, not special session needed on school officer issue

Confusion and conflicting views have muddied the waters on new rules under which school resource officers should operate, causing some agencies to pull their officers from schools. But common sense should prevail in this case.

A fight Friday at Mankato East High School required a police response and showed the value of having SROs in the schools.

Some school districts, including Mankato schools, have agreed to temporarily be without school resource officers after hearing police agencies were worried that new rules for restraining students, passed by the Legislature, would create liability for the agencies as they come across student conflicts where they intervene physically.

Other schools, including St. Peter public schools, have kept their officers on campus.

Schools can choose to contract with police agencies for SROs, but it appears in the case here and around the state, police agencies took the lead in pulling their officers.

Republicans have jumped on the issue, demanding a special session to clarify the rules or repeal the law. And while Gov. Tim Walz said earlier he was open to a special session, he told MPR News Friday he did not believe one was needed as the details could be worked out with guidance from the attorney general and other government groups.

A coalition of about 40 Democrats issued a statement Thursday saying that they strongly opposed a special session to change the law many believe was needed to restrain cases of officer use of force that fell disproportionately on students of color.

We see no need for a special session.

Attorney General Keith Ellison offered an advisory opinion that said the new law doesn’t limit all use of force. The situation has to escalate to a point where someone could be harmed. The new law simply extends a law that has been in place for a decade but applied only to students with disabilities. That law called for use of “prone restraints” only to “prevent bodily harm or death to another.”

Prone restraints are holds that would restrict breathing or make it difficult to communicate distress.

Ellison wrote in his advisory opinion: “The Legislature did not change the types of reasonable force that school staff and agents are authorized to use in responding to a situation involving a threat of bodily harm or death. Of course, what force is ‘reasonable’ is not defined in law and is determined on a case-by-case basis.”

SROs can still separate students who are fighting. What they can’t do under the new law is use choke-type holds. That seems reasonable. Even police say using such restraints is not the best option, and there are many ways to de-escalate situations.

Some law enforcement agencies that have pulled their officers say they worry about liability they could face if they could not restrain a student if they were breaking windows or damaging property or if they allowed a fight to get too far. Those may be legitimate concerns, but the evidence is mounting that such a risk of liability would be minimal or at the very least would not exceed the normal level of such risk police officers face every day.

Already the Minnesota Department of Education and the Department of Public Safety are meeting daily to help clarify what the law means. That’s a good step. Discussion among reasonable people should eliminate the need for a special session. Given the rhetoric from both political parties, it seems a special session would devolve into political gamesmanship.

Schools, parents and teachers don’t need that. They need people to come together in the spirit of common sense. The priority is to keep students safe and continue to build those important relationships school resource officers can help foster between young people and public safety.

We would urge local districts, in working with police agencies, to take the lead to return their school resource officers back to school where they’re needed.


Minneapolis Star Tribune. September 9, 2023.

Editorial: Medicare’s new drug price negotiation authority uses business savvy to drive down costs

It’s a textbook example of market-driven health reform. A cautious rollout is appropriate, however, to monitor unintended consequences.

High medication prices have plagued two generations of Theresa Weber’s family.

When her dad was in his 90s, he would save money by buying his prescription drugs from Canada. Now Weber, 69, who lives in the Twin Cities suburb of Spring Park, faces her own challenges affording Januvia, a diabetes medication.

Three years into retirement, she hit Medicare’s infamous “doughnut hole,” a coverage gap that leaves enrollees to shoulder significantly more costs for a time. Her monthly bill for Januvia has gone from $47 to $141. Her solution: working part-time, which isn’t a long-term answer.

“In one of the world’s richest countries, how can it be that these medications that are necessary to live are that expensive?” Weber said.

The answer, of course, is complicated because of how complicated the nation’s health care system is. But part of the solution likely lies in the reason that Januvia garnered headlines recently. It’s one of the first 10 drugs selected for Medicare price negotiation — a historic and necessary attempt to rein in medication costs by leveraging the federal government’s vast purchasing power.

Medicare is the federal program that provides medical coverage for those 65 and up. About 1.1 million Minnesotans rely on the program. Nationally, the program serves 66 million Americans.

The population Medicare serves understandably needs many medications, making the program the largest buyer of prescription drugs in the nation, if not the world, according to the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy Prof. Stephen Schondelmeyer, who also directs the PRIME Institute, which researches pharmaceutical economic and policy issues.

But until now, Medicare has been handcuffed by Congress from following the lead of successful businesses everywhere — watching out for customers and the bottom line by driving a hard bargain with suppliers. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. has some of the world’s highest drug prices, and Medicare drug spending has “increased significantly over the last 20 years,” according to a Peterson Foundation analysis.

For decades, politicians and Republicans in particular have clamored for market-driven health reforms. Medicare’s new negotiating authority is a textbook example of exactly this.

“Finally, Congress was able to get a law through that allows (Medicare) to behave like the rest of the market,” Schondelmeyer said. “Can you imagine if Best Buy said ‘we’re not going to negotiate prices for the things we sell in our store’? They wouldn’t stay in business long if they did that.”

The drug negotiation reform was part of the sprawling Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in 2022 by congressional Democratic majorities. Champions included Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has commendably long made drug affordability a signature issue.

The new price negotiation authority kicks in cautiously — which is appropriate — starting with the 10 drugs. The negotiated prices take effect in 2026 with more medications added in coming years, though drug industry lawsuits could derail this.

The Inflation Reduction Act contained other senior-friendly reforms that take effect sooner. One is a ” hard cap ″ limiting enrollees’ medication out-of-pocket expenses to $2,000 annually, a reform that launches in 2025. Another IRA change already limits insulin out-of-pocket spending to $35 a month.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the IRA’s drug price negotiations provision will save the federal government about $100 billion over 10 years. Schondelmeyer said the change should provide savings for Medicare enrollees, too.

Holding down prices for drugs included in the new negotiations will help reduce cost-sharing for those who take these medications. This is the broad term for contributions, such as co-insurance, that covered individuals are expected to make. Typically, this is based on a percentage of a drug’s price.

In addition, keeping costs down benefits enrollees in general, strengthening Medicare’s finances and potentially staving off the need for premium increases or greater cost-sharing.

However, the long list of potential side effects accompanying pharmaceutical ads serves as a reminder that even beneficial changes can have unintended consequences. That includes health reforms. Drug companies have warned that the Medicare change will stifle the development of new drugs. These firms also could choose to not sell their products to Medicare, meaning the drugs wouldn’t be covered.

A recent Bloomberg analysis is skeptical about the innovation claims, concluding that revenues from the 10 drugs selected for the program not only “justify the investment in these particular drugs, they are enough to fund several more generations of pharmaceutical development.”

Schondelmeyer is also skeptical that companies would walk away from a supersized market like Medicare.

The Weber family’s generational plight illustrates that the status quo isn’t working either, particularly for seniors on fixed incomes. The negotiations reform should better balance consumers’ and taxpayers’ interests alongside drug firms’.

Congress’s work on drug pricing isn’t finished, however. Also required: scrutiny of the industry’s highly profitable “middlemen” — pharmaceutical benefit managers. New drugs can’t help people if they’re unaffordable. Further reforms are in order, with price negotiations being a sensible start.