Now past the halfway point in the legislative session, we're continuing our work to improve the lives of Minnesotans. We have plenty to be proud of in Minnesota, and every day I'm working to strengthen our state.

Part of a strong Minnesota is making sure we have a healthy Minnesota, and the cost and availability of health care continue to pose challenges for many families. My DFL colleagues and I are committed to real, robust solutions.

Without action from the Legislature and governor this year, the funding mechanism for the Health Care Access Fund is set to disappear. This fund was created with bipartisan support nearly three decades ago. It ensures those with low incomes can access the care they need. Unfortunately, Republicans appear content to see this funding sunset and haven't put forth a plan to replace it, putting the funding for health care for some of the most vulnerable Minnesotans in jeopardy. All Minnesotans deserve affordable, quality health care, and I'm committed to ensuring that is a reality.

Those who purchase their health insurance on the individual market face an uncertain future, too, as premiums remain out of reach. We're working to advance solutions that benefit people, not insurance companies. The House DFL plan, shared by Gov. Tim Walz, would deliver direct premium rebates to Minnesotans facing high costs. This contrasts with the Republican plan to continue subsidizing insurance companies in the hopes they will lower premiums. This idea, called "reinsurance," contains no accountability and is simply an unsustainable path forward. Accountability for health care premium dollars is vitally important, and this money should be spent on people and not go toward profits. To increase this, I'm chief author of a bill to require insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent to 85 percent of premiums on health care.

We're also working together on an idea called "ONEcare" to offer Minnesotans a public-insurance option. Consumers would be able to purchase a plan with lower premiums compared to plans sold in the private market.

High prescription drug prices also contribute to the overall cost of health care, and we're working to address these. We've seen pharmaceutical companies exorbitantly raise prices of life-saving medications, and Minnesota families have courageously come forward to tell their stories. It's inexcusable that the price of insulin, for instance, has tripled over the course of 15 years. We're advancing a number of measures to hold Big Pharma accountable for such outrageous price gouging and to ensure price transparency.

Beyond addressing health care, another significant responsibility this session is setting a two-year state budget. The House DFL set a budget outline that makes strong investments in education, protects affordable health care for all Minnesotans, and makes communities across the state stronger.

It's critical we take an honest, responsible, and equitable approach to the budget. The most recent forecast showed a positive state budget balance of just over $1 billion. Unfortunately, the budget forecast only takes into account inflation regarding revenues and not expenditures. With inflation taken into account fully, "the surplus" is just a mirage.

This reality, coupled with signs of a potentially slowing economy, highlight the need to be cautious. Memories of deficits and the painful decisions that resulted - such as devastating cuts to our schools, increased college tuition, and cuts at the local level - aren't all that distant. If we repeat the destructive budgeting practices of the past, we are poised to have a repeat of the consequences.

Giveaways to corporations and the very wealthiest aren't the way forward to a state which gives everyone the opportunity to prosper. Through investments in great schools; affordable, accessible health care; reliable transportation infrastructure; and more, my fellow DFLers and I are committed to building a Minnesota which works better for everyone.

Rep. Jennifer Schultz is the elected DFL representative of Minnesota House District 7A in eastern Duluth. She wrote this for the News Tribune.