Our legislative rep Dave Renner, CAE, shares an update from the Capitol on loan forgiveness for health care workers, funding for tobacco cessation services, proposed limits on Minnesota’s immunization registry, frontline worker payments, physicians running for the Senate in 2022 and more.
Loan Forgiveness for Health Care Workers
The House Health Finance and Policy Committee heard a number of bills focused on increasing spending for the state’s loan forgiveness programs for health care workers who practice in underserved areas.
One bill, HF1310 (Representative John Huot, DFL-Rosemont), will increase funding for the physician and midlevel provider program by $1 million each year.
- Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) member and new-to-practice physician Cybill Oragwu, MD, testified in support of the bill. She stressed that the rural physician shortage has been growing for many years. “According to the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, only one in five providers practice anywhere outside the urban areas of the Twin Cities, Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud or Moorhead,” said Oragwu, “And combined with the fact that rural physicians tend to be older than those practicing in urban settings, we have a potential crisis brewing.”
- The Minnesota Office of Rural Health and Primary Care reports: over the last 10 years, 67% of providers who have received loan forgiveness practice in rural areas, and more than 30% of those recipients are still practicing in rural areas. This compares to just 5% of all providers practicing rurally.
All of the loan forgiveness bills had support from members of the committee and were laid over for possible inclusion in the Health and Human Services omnibus bill that will be compiled later. Governor Walz also includes increased funding for health care worker loan forgiveness in his budget.
Tobacco Cessation Services & Coverage
A bill that addresses tobacco-related health disparities and supports Minnesotans who want to quit tobacco passed out of the House Preventive Health Policy Division on February 23.
The legislation, HF3153 (Representative Kelly Morrison, MD, DFL-Deephaven) expands Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare coverage for tobacco and nicotine cessation services to include:
• individual and group education and counseling services
• telephone cessation services
• all FDA-approved prescription and over-the-counter pharmacotherapy
It also prohibits limits to frequency of services and use of prior authorization for services.
A number of members of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, which the MAFP is a coalition member of, testified in strong support of the bill.
The bill now moves onto the House Health Finance and Policy Committee.
Proposed Limits on Immunization Registry
Legislation to limit who can access the Minnesota Immunization Information Connection (MIIC), SF2509, (Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake) was set to be heard in the Senate Civil Law and Data Practices Committee; however, the bill was pulled from the committee late, and the committee never met.
The bill would have restricted who could access the MIIC and allowed patients to opt-out of having their information included. Additionally, there was an amendment to change the opt-out to an opt-in for patients, so only patients who affirmatively opt-in would have their data shared.
The MIIC is a confidential system that can store electronic immunization records all in one central location. The MIIC is critical to ensuring patients, especially children, are up to date on vaccinations, and must be updated regularly with patient information to be effective.
It is unclear whether that bill will be rescheduled this session.
House Passed Frontline Worker Payments
On February 24, the House of Representatives passed HF2900, which allocates $1.052 billion for payments to eligible frontline workers whose jobs put them at risk of contracting COVID-19 during the peacetime emergency.
The bill, authored by Representative Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope), establishes payments of $1,500 to qualifying workers:
- Those employed for at least 120 hours between March 2020 and June 2021.
- Those who meet income requirements—for health care workers, incomes below $175,000 for a single person or $350,000 for a couple.
In an earlier version of the bill, physicians were excluded. Frazier amended the bill, and all health care workers are included if they meet income requirements.
The Senate version of the bill, SF2650 (Senator Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul), is still awaiting a hearing in committee. While there is a commitment from both bodies to provide funding for frontline worker payments, there is not agreement on how broad the definition of frontline worker should be or how much total money should be allocated to the payment pool.
Interstate Nurse License Compact
The Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee heard testimony on SF2302 (Senator Carla Nelson, R-Rochester) on joining the nurse interstate license compact. The bill allows a registered nurse (RN) or practical/vocational nurse (LPN/VN) who practices in a state that is a member of the interstate nurse license compact to practice in any member state without having to obtain an additional license. There are currently 37 states participating in the compact.
Proponents of the bill argued it would help address workforce shortages in Minnesota’s health care facilities and nursing homes. Opponents argued that the bill would have little impact on workforce in Minnesota and shared concerns around safety and quality of care for patients.
The bill passed the committee by a voice vote and was referred to the Senate Finance Committee with a fiscal note. It has been introduced in the House but is unlikely to receive a committee hearing.
Physicians Announce Bids for 2022
There are currently two physicians in the Minnesota Legislature: Representative Kelly Morrison, MD (DFL-Deephaven) and Senator Matt Klein, MD (DFL-Mendota Heights). Both are running for re-election; however, Morrison has chosen to run for the Senate in the newly created SD45, which encompasses most of her old district.
Former State Representative and MAFP member Alice Mann, MD, MPH, who retired from the state legislature in 2020, announced her bid for the Senate in the newly created SD50 representing part of Bloomington.