Legislators, like students cramming for a big test or project, often work best under the pressure of deadlines. That was the case this legislative session, too, as it took an old-fashioned “all-nighter” for legislators to complete the work of the 2019 legislative session. Legislators, called back to the Capitol for a special session by Governor Walz on May 24, worked for more than 20 hours straight to complete the work for the year.
The MNAAP had a very strong legislative session. Most notably, the chapter played a leading role in the successful effort to repeal the sunset of the provider tax. The tax, used to support funding for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare as well as other access and public health programming, had been slated to be repealed on Dec. 31, 2019, however the Legislature’s actions now extend the tax indefinitely. The MNAAP joined a group of more than 150 health care providers, hospitals, social justice advocates, labor unions, and others in the robust campaign to preserve funding for these important programs.
Investments in pediatric mental health, another chapter priority, was also an area that saw strong results. The Health and Human Service (HHS) budget saw a significant investment in school-linked mental health funding in 2020 and beyond, and funding was also appropriated for mental health services delivered in homeless shelters. Robust funding for suicide prevention was adopted, as was authorization for the Department of Human Services to add up to 80 additional residential mental health beds. An important measure to strengthen the state’s laws that mandate parity for mental health services was also adopted into law.
The session saw a number of other notable wins. Advocacy by pediatricians saw the innovate, effective “Reach Out and Read” program receive funding in 2020 and 2021, as part of a new emphasis on disparities in prenatal care. Two important tobacco control proposals – state funding for a nicotine cessation services and an extension of clean indoor air requirements to include e-cigarettes – also became law. And while the move to increase the age at which individuals may purchase tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21 did not become law, this session saw significant progress. A newly created task force on rare diseases will bring together health care leaders (including at least one pediatrician) to provide advice on research, diagnosis, treatment, and education related to rare diseases.
Unfortunately, several other MNAAP priorities were less successful. A MNAAP-supported effort to reduce death and injury by firearms could not draw support in the Senate despite a forceful lobbying effort by advocates and the House of Representatives. The chapter was also unable to secure funding to improve the state’s immunization rates.
A House-led effort to fund education and outreach efforts in communities with lower rates of immunization was not included in the budget bill, and a related proposal in the Senate came up short, too. The good news is that no anti-vaccine proposals became law, despite lobbying by anti-vaccine legislators and advocates. Regrettably, a MNAAP-supported effort to bar the use of so-called “conversion therapy” for minors was also rejected by the Senate.
The increased profile of pediatricians and the MNAAP was another highlight of the 2019 session. Pediatricians testified on almost a dozen different bills or issues, and a nearly equal number of letters of support were distributed to policy makers. Coupled with the action alerts to lend the chapter’s support to the provider tax fight, the 2019 session saw a very active and vibrant chapter. The pediatric community was well represented by the terrific pediatricians who participated in these efforts.
With the 2019 session having concluded, the chapter will begin building our game plan for the 2020 session very soon. The 2020 legislative session starts on Feb.11, 2020, and there are innumerable threats and opportunities awaiting pediatricians and the state’s most vulnerable patients.
Eric Dick is MNAAP’s lobbyist.