Legislative Update

Editor’s Note: The following reports were filed with Access Press by various advocates on April 3rd, as this issue of […]

Editor’s Note: The following reports were filed with Access Press by various advocates on April 3rd, as this issue of Access Press was going into production.  Since the legislature is still in session, exact details as to the progress of specific bills (bill numbers, committee status, and so forth) may have changed by the time you read this.

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Expansion of Prescription Drug Program, by Joel Ulland, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter

In the 2001 session, the disability community continues to work hard on the expansion of the prescription drug program.  House File 13 and Senate File 325 would move up the eligibility date and increase the income eligibility criteria for people with disabilities.
 
As it stands now, people with disabilities will not be eligible to participate in the program until July 1, 2002.  That eligibility date is not soon enough; therefore, advocates are working to move the effective date up to July 1, 2001.

Advocates are also working to increase the income eligibility criteria for people with disabilities.  Under the current prescription drug program, only people with disabilities whose income is 100% of the Federal Poverty Guideline (about $700 a month) or less can qualify.  These strict income guidelines exclude many people with disabilities because many of these people are participating in the Medical Assistance Program.

We are pleased to report some progress so far, with the bills passing out of committees in both the House and Senate at an income level of 150% of poverty, or about $1075 per month, with the effective date moved up to January 1, 2002.  Although the date was not the July 1, 2001 we recommended, we are pleased at the bill’s progress.

Funding for this bill is a concern.  Please write your legislators and ask them to support the income eligibility increase for people with disabilities.

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Work Incentives Program At Risk, by Joel Ulland, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter

The Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD) program is a program that allows people with disabilities to work and to keep their Medical Assistance.  When the program began in 1999, 500 people with disabilities were projected to take advantage of this program and find employment.  After only a year and a half, approximately 5,500 people with disabilities have joined the work force.  

The MA-EPD program is a proven success.  However, the Governor’s budget proposes disturbing changes to the program.  The Governor’s budget eliminates the current MA-EPD premium structure and replaces it with a more complicated premium structure.   The proposed changes could create a disincentive to work for people with disabilities.  Advocates from the disability community are seeking a fair premium structure that recognizes the importance of working.

Ask your Senator or Representative not to support the Governor’s budget recommendations in House File 1303 and Senate File 1310.

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“Unlock the Waiting List” Bill, by Bob Brick, Arc Minnesota

The bill to “Unlock the Waiting List” (HF 1064/SF 963) for people who have developmental disabilities passed out of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee on March 15th and the Health and Human Services Finance Committee on April 2nd. 

During the March 15th hearing, Committee members were moved by the testimony of Sharla Scullen and Glen Johnson, two parents who have children with developmental disabilities.  Scullen, who lives in Anoka County, spoke of the need for counties to offer Consumer Directed Community Supports as part the Developmental Disabilities Waiver program.

Without this option, many families who have waivered services continue to struggle to find support services due to the staffing crisis faced by providers.  Currently only 11 of the 87 Counties offer this option as part of the Waiver program.

Johnson, a resident of Ramsey County, represented the 4,400 families who continue to wait for services.  Johnson’s daughter has been waiting for over ten years for waivered services.  He retired several years ago in order to stay home and take care of his adult daughter. 

During the hearing, Representative Fran Bradley from Rochester offered an amendment that prevents the Finance Department from reducing this program’s spending forecasts in the future if there is a waiting list for the Developmental Disabilities Waiver program.  This amendment won overwhelming approval and is designed to get back an estimated $66 million in the next two years that was removed from this account, due to less services being used than estimated.

The bill to Unlock the Waiting List makes the Consumer Support Grant program and Consumer Directed Community Supports option of the Waiver program available in all Counties; requires funds that are targeted for this initiative but aren’t forecasted to be spent, to be used for others who continue to wait for services; and allows consumers to have choices of Case managers. 

The bill is expected to be scheduled soon for a hearing in the Senate Health Care and Family Security Committee.

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Public Guardianship Reform Bill Meets First Deadline, by Bob Brick, Arc Minnesota

A bill to reform the State’s public guardianship system (HF 1307/SF1245) has been heard in both the House and Senate policy committees and been passed on to the appropriate Finance Committees.  Currently there are about 3,800 public wards who have mental retardation or related conditions.

The guardians for these wards are County employees, often their case managers, who have to juggle representing the ward’s best interest against expectations of the County that may include controlling costs.  Arc and others routinely hear from Counties and case managers about the conflict of interest that exists in these situations.

The bill would allow the Commissioner of Human Services to contract with private guardianship providers to offer guardianship services. These providers would not be able to offer other services to the wards. The bill would also fund a discharge process, in an effort to shift guardianship duties to family members or others who could become private guardians.

Other Bills

Please note that there also are or have been many other bills of concern to people with disabilities before the legislature, on such issues as insurance, program eligibility standards, training, funding for advocacy and education, housing, patient protection, and many others.  Access Press will report on these as they develop.

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