Minnesotans who rely on incontinence products, medical products suppliers and legislators are continuing to try to block enforcement of the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Preferred Incontinence Product Program (PIPP). The program, which was approved in the waning hours of the 2017 special session of the Minnesota Legislature, is seen as taking away choice for people who rely on the products. Program foes are concerned about product quality as well as potential health risks that could occur due to limited choice of products.
The PIPP is opposed by disability advocates, providers, legislative leaders in both parties, and Gov. Mark Dayton. It has gained a high-profile ally in Ms. Wheelchair America, Sheri Melander-Smith. The Chanhassen resident has joined the fight against PIPP. It was adopted in 2017 without public input or hearings. But efforts to undo the 2017 law during the 2018 legislative session fell short. Language to repeal PIPP was included in the 2018 supplemental budget bill, which Dayton vetoed in May. Dayton said he was forced to veto the bill because of other concerns about its contents.
PIPP would award a single company a monopoly on distributing medically-necessary incontinence products to Minnesota Medicaid patients. A bipartisan group of 10 Minnesota legislators in July signed a letter of support for the petition, which is being led by the Midwest Association of Medical Equipment Supplies & Services (MAMES). The petition was filed with an administrative law judge. No decision had been released by the time Access Press went to press.
The petition requests that the Commissioner of Human Services initiate a rule-making process before the Office of Administrative Hearings. The legislators signing the letter include Senators Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake), Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis), John Hoffman, (DFL- Champlin), Scott Jensen (R-Chaska), Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), and Representatives Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) Roz Peterson (R-Lakeville) and Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River).
The legal petition alleges that the PIPP program structure constitutes “the enforcement of an invalid, unpromulgated rule”, as the enabling legislation requires the DHS Commissioner to “volume purchase incontinence products”, not designate a monopoly distributor.
“The Preferred Incontinence Product Program has been a mess from the start” said Benson, chair of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. “That’s why I worked with colleagues in both parties to co-author
legislation to repeal the program. We know that incontinence issues are the number one reason for hospitalization for seniors: this short-cited initiative will almost certainly cost more in the long run than it saves. I call on the governor to support this petition, and give the legislature the opportunity to fix this once and for in 2019.”
“I am proud to stand with healthcare and disability advocates, as well as my colleagues in both parties, to support this petition,” said Hoffman. “I look forward to working with Governor Dayton to protect the thousands of Minnesotans that rely upon the incontinence program to maintain their active lifestyles.”
On July 9 Melander-Smith filed an official protest against PIPP. “If DHS succeeds in giving a single corporation a monopoly, the health and dignity of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens will be put at risk. Patients will have reduced access to high-quality incontinence products, while costs will likely go up,” Melander-Smith said in a statement. “I’m proud to join with the disability community in the fight against this unnecessary and dangerous program that puts patients at risk.”
Melander-Smith’s protest further details the potential harm of the program to the disability community, including Minnesotans like her. She has also signed onto a legal petition requesting that DHS initiate an official rulemaking process before the Office of Administrative Hearings.
“It’s a shame this protest is even necessary: the widespread opposition of those DHS is meant to serve should be enough for them to reconsider this troubling path,” Melander-Smith said.
Melander-Smith began her career as a fashion model, before a vascular malformation on her spine left her paralyzed. Since then, she has devoted her life to serving as an advocate for the disability community. She has worked as an analyst in children’s mental health in Hennepin County, and served as a principal planning analyst for Metropolitan Health Plan, Hennepin County’s public healthcare system. She has also served as a motivational speaker, and hosted Living Forward, a TV show that focused on how people with disabilities can live the best life possible.
She holds a master’s degree in psychology from UCLA, as well as an MBA from the University of St. Thomas. She also served in a leadership position on the board of the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living.
Melander-Smith was crowned Ms. Wheelchair America 2018. Ms. Wheelchair America is devoted to recognizing the accomplishments of women who utilize wheelchairs for mobility, and aims to increase public awareness so that all citizens will be afforded the opportunities to lead productive and meaningful lives.