Children’s at the Capitol: mid-session recap

midsession recap

The Minnesota legislative session is well underway and as we hit the mid-point, much has been accomplished in the area of health. But, there is more heavy lifting to come on some of the most critical issues impacting Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Your voice can make a difference in the policy debates that affect children: join us to learn more about how you can be an advocate.

Here’s an overview of the issues our policy team is monitoring at the capitol:  

The budget: mixed messages
The month of March brought both positive and negative news on the state budget. An updated economic forecast reduced the projected deficit for the 2014-2015 fiscal year from $1.1 billion to $627 million, which triggered a new budget proposal from Governor Dayton.

The good news is that his proposal included an increase in the Health and Human Services (HHS) budget. This piece of the budget makes up a large part of state spending and houses programs that are critically important for many of the kids that come through our doors, like Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s Medicaid program).   

However, the concerning news came last week when Minnesota House and Senate leaders released budget targets that call for a $150 million reduction in HHS funding while nearly every other state department sees an increase or is held harmless. After years of cuts for health care providers and the health care community, Children’s is very concerned about the impact of these cuts on our hospital.

action alert imageFurther cuts to HHS could stretch already thin resources for non-profit healthcare providers like Children’s and community organizations that do essential work in providing needed health services. Because many of the programs funded through HHS support safety net programs like Medical Assistance, cuts in this area of the budget could harm some of the most vulnerable among us. Please act now to prevent another round of cuts to HHS funding!

Health Insurance Exchange
Last Wednesday, Governor Dayton signed the new Health Insurance Exchange, called MNSure, into law. MNSure will serve as an online marketplace for health insurance products. It is scheduled to go live on Oct. 1, 2013.

With the exchange structure in place, Children’s is now working with legislators as they craft legislation to address the type of products that will be offered on MNSure. Our goal is to ensure that all families—regardless of the product they choose—are able to access high-quality, specialized pediatric care like the services we provide at Children’s.

Nurse staffing ratios
In response to legislation brought forward by the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), the statewide hospital community has worked with legislators and the MNA to shift the discussion away from mandated staffing levels and toward a reporting model that provides more information about hospitals’ staffing approaches. As national leaders in quality, Minnesota hospitals are proud of our track record and look forward to identifying effective, objective methods for further validating our approaches to patient care.

Tobacco tax increase
As a member of the Raise it for Health coalition, Children’s is encouraged that several different tobacco tax proposals are moving forward at the legislature. The Governor included a 94 cent per pack cigarette tax in his budget while several other bills call for a range of increases, up to $1.60 per pack. Each year 77,000 kids in Minnesota will use tobacco. As an example of the impact price increases have, an increase of $1.50 per pack would prevent 47,700 Minnesota kids from becoming addicted smokers.

Newborn screening
Critical congenital heart defects (CCHD) account for nearly 30 percent of infant deaths resulting from birth defects and babies with CCHD are at significant risk for death or disability if not diagnosed and treated soon after birth. Children’s is supportive of legislation that would require hospitals and birthing centers to test for CCHD using pulse oximetry screening before an infant is discharged. The current bill would add this screening to the state’s current newborn screening program, which tests for more than 50 disorders.

Moving forward
After the holiday break, the focus at the capitol will quickly turn to the budget as the top priority. The budget discussion will have a significant impact on Children’s so we will be watching this carefully and working hard to protect issues like Medicaid funding.