Children’s at the Capitol: 2013 session gets underway

sidsblogThe 2013 Minnesota state legislative session begins on Tuesday, January 8th. With the DFL controlling the House, Senate, and the executive branch, all eyes will be on how state policymakers choose to resolve the $1 billion deficit, including a discussion of tax increases and program cuts. Governor Dayton is scheduled to release his budget the week of January 21st at which time legislators will begin debating its merits and providing ideas of their own.

In addition to new majorities, approximately one third of the legislature is new. So the first few weeks of session will be spent familiarizing new lawmakers with the legislative process and key issues.

Health and Human Services
With a $1 billion deficit, Health and Human Services (HHS)–which comprises the majority of the state budget–will undoubtedly bear the brunt of state spending reductions. We will monitor these budget decisions closely to make sure they do not result in cuts to Medicai
d or healthcare providers like Children Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

The HHS committee will also have to consider the future of MinnesotaCare, a state program that provides subsidized health care coverage to low and moderate income families and individuals up to 275 percent of federal poverty guidelines (FPG). Currently, the program covers 148,000 individuals, with 35 percent being children. Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will cover individuals up to 138 percent of FPG. The state will have to determine how to cover those individuals between 139-275 percent of FPG.

Affordable Care Act
Aside from the challenge of balancing the budget, legislators will also be tasked with creating and passing a health insurance exchange bill. Health Insurance Exchanges, which are required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), are web-based marketplaces where people can shop, compare, purchase and enroll health insurance and enroll in public programs online. Legislators will create the framework for the exchange, including how it’s financed and governed. We will work to ensure that the exchange provides access to needed primary and specialty pediatric care.

Medical education
We will also be advocating for Medical Education Research Costs (MERC) funding. The MERC program funds medical education training for physicians, including pediatricians and pediatric specialists. In 2011, Children’s trained over 400 doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. We will work hard to restore funding that was cut in 2011 so we can continue to train
the next generation of pediatricians.

Taxes and more
It is also anticipated that the 2013 legislative session will include a robust tax reform discussion. The options may include income tax increases, expanded sales tax, closing corporate loopholes, taxing online transactions and/or increases in tobacco products.

There are a host of other ideas and proposals that will arise, which means there is no shortage of issues to be discussed and resolved this session. A lot will have to get done before the tentative date of adjournment on Monday, May 20th and we’ll update you on the issues affecting children’s health right here on the Voice for Kids blog.