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Hatch backs health care bills
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Mike Hatch has unveiled a series of legislative packages on a variety of issues. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) Democratic lawmakers joined Attorney General Mike Hatch on Friday in pushing a trio of bills they said could trim health care costs. One would stiffen penalties for doctors or companies that demand kickbacks. Another would give the state more powers to recoup money from anyone who submits phony bills. The last would expand what salary information nonprofit HMOs must make public.

Hatch calls the three bills his health care cost containment package and said he expects it could save the tens of millions of dollars per year. It's the latest in a series of legislative packages on a variety of issues that Hatch, the top-ranking Democrat in the state, has lent his name to.

The changes wouldn't do much to curb double-digit inflation in the multibillion industry, but Hatch said ideas like publicizing the perks of HMO executives would bring more accountability to the health care system.

"Hopefully the executives will be somewhat deterred by the blush factor," he said.

Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, is the sponsor of the HMO bill, which has passed the Senate last year, but not the House. He said it grew from Hatch's audit of HMOs including HealthPartners, which found questionable travel spending, fringe benefits and spending on consultants.

Each year, HMOs would have to report to the commissioner of health the total compensation, rights to deferred or future compensation and paid travel for the top employees.

Currently, non-profits are required to disclose the top five highest paid employees, but this bill would boost the number to 20.

Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, said her bill would create a state version of a federal False Claims Act, which includes incentives for people who suspect wrongdoing to file whistle-blower lawsuits.

Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, referencing a Star Tribune newspaper report that claimed donations to the Parker Hughes Cancer Center clinic were tied to the awarding of contracts, said state law needs to be clearer.

The clinic has denied demanding the donations.

Higgins said a current law banning kickbacks hasn't been properly put into state rules. Hatch said some lawyers believe kickback-type schemes are legal in Minnesota under law as it stands, though he disagrees.

The legislative session begins Feb. 2.

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