Editor's Column - February 2013

In a recent column, I wrote a bit about what a mild winter we were having so far. Well, as usual in Minnesota, the shoe (a snowshoe) dropped, and we have had a boatload of snow and frigid weather. There have been several days and nights of record cold temperatures, and snowfalls that we haven’t seen in several winters. It’s back to normal in Minnesota. Yessss.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Commissioner Lucinda Jesson of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) had a recent phone conference with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, requesting the use of federal Affordable Care Act funds to lower eligibility requirements for MinnesotaCare. If the request is granted, more low-income individuals who cannot now afford it will be eligible for health insurance coverage.

Strengthening the nation’s health and human services infrastructure is one of the federal administration’s strategic goals for 2010-2015, and Sebelius’ specific charge. What Dayton and Jesson are asking for could offer many of our caregivers the opportunity to have real affordable insurance in their chosen careers.

There’s been conversation around the office about Sen. Jeff Hayden’s (DFL-Minneapolis) legislation (SF: 111) proposing $8 million in funding for research on spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries (SCI and TBI). My first reaction was like the one most of us veterans have about research on SCI: let’s spend money on care for individuals, not on searching for magic cures. That’s a philosophy most of us have had for many years. But I did a little exploring, and after seeing the amount of money being spent nationally on SCI research compared to the amounts spent on care, I’ve changed my thinking. In the U.S., the estimated cost of care on SCI alone is estimated at $77 billion and yet we spend only about $70 million of federal money on research.

Until recently, there was a pretty bleak prognosis for most SCI and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and researcher could find no solid evidence of the possibility of nerve regeneration. With such low chances for successful cure, legislators have been trying instead just to keep up with the costs of long-term care of individuals with SCI. However, many researchers are seeing a new horizon for nerve regeneration. I think we need to change our strategies just a little and begin spending more money on research on nerve regeneration and stem-cell replacement for all central nervous system injuries and diseases.

Considering that we’re spending on research only about 1/1000th of the cost of care, we really do need to make a more serious investment in research that might find a cure for new neurological injuries and to prevent traumatic injury from causing permanent disability.

Even if we invest more in scientific research, though, we can’t forget that long-term care remains the future for many Americans. There is still a huge need for long-term care, and the number of recipients of long-term care will be increasing tenfold in the next 20 years. We have to ensure the dignity of our seniors and people with disabilities. Many of the up-and-coming long-term care users will not have nervous system problems that will be solved by nerve regeneration research.

And finally, one more thing. Personally, I think any state money that’s spent on research should be spent on direct research, not preparing for a research project. There are already lots of projects up and running that need more funding. I hope Hayden agrees and writes a “direct money” clause into his bill.

Take some time to go talk or write to Hayden and your local legislators. Tell them what you think will make our state the best state for you as a citizen. Join your voice with others at the Minnesota capitol and make some noise, have an impact. Stay warm and have a good, safe month.