Conclusion draws near for blue ribbon commission’s work

Conclusion draws near for blue ribbon commission’s work

Twenty-two strategies have emerged from the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Health and Human Services. The commission is to complete its work and finalize the report in October. 

The commission was created by the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz in 2019 to develop an action plan “to advise and assist the legislature and governor in transforming the health and human services system to build greater efficiencies, savings, and better outcomes for Minnesotans.” Minnesotans with disabilities have been watching the commission’s work carefully as they are impacted by many of the recommendations. 

Five issues called out by state lawmakers drove the work of the commission: health and human services expenditures (cost savings), health equity, administrative efficiencies and simplification, waste (including fraud and program integrity), and system transformation. 

Although much focus has been on the commission’s need to find $100 million in cost savings for the next biennium, its members also reviewed strategies focused on administrative simplification, reducing waste, and addressing health equity. 

More savings might be needed as the state faces a budget crunch. Each of the 22 strategies has cost savings attached. 

Give the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission has had its work cut out for it. In-person participation has been curtailed, with virtual meetings held instead. 

The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) is among the groups carefully following the commission’s work. MNCCD held a virtual forum about the report this summer. 

Community members weighed in on the strategies and what those proposals could mean for their lives and the lives of family members and clients, outlining both concerns and opportunities. A focus was on services and how they help people maintain some level of independence. 

Some changes, such as reducing racial and ethnic disparities in aging and disabilities services and improvements to the MNCHOICES Program, won praise as well as calls for more attention. Other strategies raised red flags. 

One strategy is to address the rising residential costs for disability waivers, to reduce use of high cost services. Other changes add clarification for existing programs, such as the “life sharing” shared living arrangements that allow families to share their homes with people with disabilities. 

Other strategies are prompting questions and objections. One is to change Medicaid rates for some durable medical equipment (DME) to Medicare rates, which would reduce some costs. But this would also reduce the number of DME providers by adopting a Medicaid competitive bidding program and hurt providers. Speakers at the MNCCD meeting said that would reduce choices and potentially force people with disabilities to use lower-cost, less desirable equipment and supplies, affecting their health. 

Another potentially detrimental strategy would affect formulas for day and employment services, impacting services under disability waivers. It would reduce the absence and utilization factor and would be detrimental to a sector of the disability service system that is already struggling due to the pandemic. 

Legislators and DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead praised the MNCCD event and the ability to hear from community members. Harpstead called the comments “particularly valuable.” 

Read about the commission’s work, its draft report and other comments online at the commission’s website.