Winter is here; there is no questioning that now. As I’m writing this, I’m watching the snow falling out my window. I’m not looking forward to slipping out into the cold and the slick drive home. The winter weather alerts have been broadcast everywhere— smartphones, television, radio, Internet. All those alerts, but nothing to do about them except grit my teeth and be very careful.
Each year at this time I question why I live in this deep-freeze. I ask myself that age-old question of Minnesota-Arizona snowbirds: what would I rather do, run from my heated house to my heated car or from my air-conditioned house to my air-conditioned car? Then I think positive. Minnesota has a quality of life that is better than any place I’ve been in the United States. And without question, Minnesota has some of the best opportunities and services for people with disabilities in the country. Minnesota has an extremely strong disability advocacy community with extremely effective legislative advocacy groups to help maintain our outstanding quality of life. And, hey, spring is beautifully green and renewing, summer is comfortably warm with occasional rain showers, and fall is always cool and unbelievably colorful. Bring it on, winter.
We’ve been running articles pretty regularly about the 5% Campaign and its progress. This month on the front page we have an article about a recent rally in the capitol rotunda that got everyone excited. Each day there are more legislators signing on to support the 5% campaign. As we went to press, the campaign received the best possible news: the state’s budget forecast shows a billion-dollar surplus for this fiscal year. After the required (and deserved) payments to K-12 schools, there should be plenty of surplus to cover the 5% requested wage increase for direct support professionals. The plan is that 75% of the increase will be mandated to go directly to employees and the other 25% will cover administrative costs. But I’m told by Steve Larson from The Arc Minnesota, that we need to continue our communications with Gov. Mark Dayton; he’s not totally convinced that the 5% Campaign should be high-priority. Of course, all of us in the disability community think that it should have been top priority last session when a 5% increase went to institutional employees and our PCA agencies only got a 1% increase. I agree with what Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) said: there should be a 15% increase for home- and community-based providers.
Preparations for the state of MNSure continue. NAMI Minnesota reminds us that MNSure and Medicaid expansion will offer new hope to many young people who are being newly diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. In an article a couple months back we didn’t include an important fact; namely, that all the new health care plans under MNSure and Medicaid were required to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment and must follow mental health parity laws and regulations. Prior to the expansion, many of the individual health insurance plans didn’t cover mental health treatments and substance use disorders. Often these treatments would be exempt from insurance parity laws. To become eligible for Medicaid you almost always had to be on Social Security Insurance. Young adults with mental health conditions are often denied SSA coverage and have had to appeal two or more times. It’s difficult to say at a young age that you’ll never be healthy enough to work again, one of the requirements. With the new expansion you only have to be low-income to be eligible for Medicaid and access your needed mental health treatment through the new plans. Not always, but often, many mental health conditions can be controlled with proper treatments, which will allow many with mental health diagnoses to eventually get and retain jobs. Let’s support these folks today so they can support themselves tomorrow.
Stay warm, stay safe and start calling the governor and your legislators to support the 5% campaign and all other disability services in the upcoming session. Even though it’s not a budget session, we still need to be seen at the capitol. See you all there in the coming new year!