From Our Community - April 2022

Deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing Minnesotans call for professionals’ licensure

by Sonny Wasilowski  

The drive is on to pass HF3144, which calls for sign language interpreters and transliterators board and licensure established. The bill was referred to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee earlier this session. We were disappointed to learn that Committee’s Chair Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL – Rochester) told Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault)  that she would not have the bill heard in her committee. She personally had several concerns with the bill. 

First, she felt that we’ve not made the case that this requires licensure. She asked why could this not be accomplished through statewide registration, as set forth in Minnesota Statutes 214.001, subdivision 3. 

She also cited being uncomfortable with setting up a board and allowing it to make all of the decision through rulemaking. She then cited there may be fiscal issues. The economics of having a separate board for small number of practitioners may mean that it can’t sustain operations from those fees. She mentioned that many occupations are under the boards of larger ones, such as the Board of Medical Practice. 

Below is our response to her: 

The deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing communities are a marginalized group. Many complete or leave school behind from their peers in reading, writing and other subjects. They experience high unemployment, underemployment or are no longer seeking work. A person with a disability often has other health or mental challenges, resulting in regular visits to a medical provider/professional. In addition to being a marginalized group, they are a vulnerable population where they are in a position whereas they do not secure their own accommodations and when they encounter an unqualified or a problematic interpreter (often repeatedly) – their grievance process is limited in addition to their challenges to advocate for themselves or having someone to advocate for them.  

With utmost confidence with my son being deaf, my involvement in their communities; this is an important bill addressing the safety of the deaf, deafblind, and hard of hearing communities statewide. 

The intent of the bill is twofold: 

To ensure every consumer confidently receives a qualified licensed interpreter. 

To provide consumers with a grievance process. 

The bill was intentionally drafted to be broad and addressed through a rulemaking process involving all stakeholders. We can make sure of this. 

Our previous bill in the last legislative session (2019-2021) had basic licensure requirements and we had feedback from diverse stakeholders including the Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing. Stakeholders said that they prefer a simpler bill whereas stakeholders can create and revisit rules they had made through the rulemaking board. 

The current bill, HF3144, has the support of the Governor-appointed Board of the Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing. See it and other bills in the legislative agenda, at https://mn.gov/deaf-commission/legislation/legislative-agenda/ 

Lastly, I’ve consulted with my constituents of the possibility of turning this new board into a task force. In turn we consulted with several people that have been involved with our interpreter licensure efforts. They’ve been working on this for the last several years. Not only Wisconsin and Iowa have interpreter licensure in place, half of the country also has interpreter licensure in place in addition to interpreter licensure being worked on in remaining States. My constituents shared with me that they were unanimous, that they want to have the bill to be heard and progress in legislative committees this session. Regarding the taskforce, they felt it was a step backwards from the work they’ve put in. 

Also attached is a copy of a completed questionnaire that was submitted to the committee few weeks ago: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/comm/docs/zBe2qyWyW0CqLq4KB_QMMw.docx 

Sonny Wasilowski is a deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing advocate from Faribault.

Now is the time to strengthen health care and supports 

by Laura Mortenson, communications director for the Minnesota Budget Project, a member of This Is Medicaid 

Minnesota should use this historic opportunity to strengthen health care and supports. 

All Minnesotans deserve to receive the health care they need, when they need it. More than 1 million of us, from babies to seniors, in every county and Tribal nation, get health care and supports so they can work, go to school and live independently through Medicaid, called Medical Assistance in Minnesota. Our state has a strong history of investments in health care and has the capacity to ensure our system works for everyone, regardless of income, address, age, disability, race, ethnicity, or gender.  

The state’s historic budget surplus provides a once in a generation opportunity to expand on Minnesota’s existing framework and move toward providing the best possible health care for all. Minnesota’s Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and lower-income Minnesotans have borne the brunt of the hardships caused by the pandemic and should be prioritized in this year’s health care investments. Focused investments can also begin to narrow our state’s harmful disparities in health and well-being due to historic and current policies that limit low-income and BIPOC folks’ access to health care. 

This Is Medicaid is a diverse coalition of nonpartisan organizations from across Minnesota partnering to strengthen Medicaid. These organizations advocate for or directly serve people who receive health care and support through Medicaid. 

We believe Minnesotans should be able to get the health care they need, when and where they need it. We believe health and well-being are vital to strong and thriving Minnesota families and communities. And we educate and activate community members and policymakers to preserve and strengthen the promise of Medicaid. 

Our coalition supports policy changes that seize this opportunity to strengthen health care for a broad swath of Minnesotans who see a doctor, get their prescription, or receive care through Medicaid.  

Research shows that folks who have continuous health insurance coverage for more than a year are more likely to seek regular and preventative care and have their medical needs met. Unfortunately, many people who get health care through Medicaid can lose it during the year due to monthly fluctuations in income. One week of working overtime can potentially push someone over the income threshold for a single month, costing them and their families their health care. 

During the pandemic, federal policymakers recognized the importance of people maintaining their health care coverage and made temporary policy changes so that more folks working in low-wage jobs and their families across the state had health care when they needed it. Our coalition supports making state policy changes this year that build on that experience and allow Minnesotans to remain enrolled in Medicaid for 12 months, regardless of monthly fluctuations in income, and ensure people receive multiple notices before having their health care taken away. 

Another critical policy proposal this legislative session would make it easier for Minnesotans with disabilities who are working to afford needed health care and supports through Medicaid. These Minnesotans pay a certain amount each month for this care based on how much they earn. It’s time for policy changes to simplify and reduce the monthly premiums and increase limits on the size of their assets, ensuring more Minnesotans who have disabilities are able to work, build and keep assets, and invest in their futures without fear of losing health care and related supports. 

But we won’t be able to make these and other crucial policy changes to ensure all of us have the health care we need if the surplus is used for large, permanent tax cuts. Federal pandemic aid has been critical for our state and for many Minnesotans being able to get through the health and economic crises brought on by the pandemic, but that funding is temporary. Enacting permanent tax cuts now will erode our ability to ensure our families and neighbors receive the health care and supports they need and deserve. 

Minnesotans understand what it means to truly care for one another — being able to see a doctor, pay for medication, or receive services to live independently.  

We have the chance this year to strengthen Medicaid and ensure those around us are better able to live their full lives, while creating stronger, thriving communities across Minnesota. 

This Is Medicaid is a diverse coalition of nonpartisan organizations from across Minnesota partnering to strengthen Medicaid. These organizations advocate for or directly serve people who receive health care and support through Medicaid.