“When they come back, the real work begins,” said Gov. Mark Dayton as legislators began the Easter/Passover break on April 10.
Despite being almost three quarters complete (as of this writing in mid-April), the most difficult and consequential pieces of the 2017 legislative session yet remain. While almost 6,000 bills have been introduced in both houses of the legislature this session, the year’s most important task – crafting a two year biennial budget – remains on legislators’ “to do” list.
Both the House and Senate have passed budgets that fund state government, including the Health and Human Service (HHS) programs. As is always the case with budget bills that span more than 700 pages, there are pieces that the MNAAP can strongly support, and there are elements that we forcefully oppose.
Most directly, the Senate HHS funding proposals cuts physician reimbursement for services provided under MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance by 2.3% in 2017 and by 3% in 2019. The House takes a slightly different approach, counting on new client eligibility verification tools and efforts to reduce hospital readmissions to save state resources. Should these mechanisms not create the savings the authors intend, reimbursement to physicians and other providers would be cut by up to $204 million. These cuts, on top of Minnesota’s already anemic payment rates, represent a real threat to continued access to care for Minnesota’s most needy children and families.
There are bright spots in the budget bills. Both the House and Senate include funding for several MNAAP priorities.
Children’s mental health receives significant attention, with funding for school-linked mental health grants, text-based suicide prevention programming, and support for first episode psychosis training.
Minnesota’s yawning racial and economic health disparities also receive some attention with funding included for nurse home visiting programs for prenatal and postpartum follow-up for at-risk parents, another MNAAP priority.
The House and Senate both fund the Safe Harbor program, an effort to prevent child sex trafficking while supporting victims.
Foster families also receive support via several programs that aim to assist foster children who are not adopted.
When session began, there were real concerns that the MNAAP would be forced to play defense to preserve hard-fought wins on a number of issues, as well as preventing dangerous proposals from becoming law. There are legislators at the Capitol who seek to roll back the newborn screening program, repeal a minor’s ability to receive health care in certain limited instances without parental consent, and make Minnesota’s already-weak immunization law even weaker. And while harmful bills regarding some of these issues were introduced, I’m happy to report that none of these proposals gained traction this session.
The end of session is now in sight, as the Minnesota Constitution mandates that the session end no later than midnight on May 22. If you haven’t already contacted your elected officials to share your perspective on these important issues, now is the time to do so.
Legislators do want to hear from you, and your voice as a pediatrician is amongst the most credible and powerful.