Regional News in Review - January 2013

Roadmap to a healthier Minnesota released

The Minnesota Health Reform Task Force voted Dec. 13 to endorse the Roadmap to a Healthier Minnesota, including its recommendations for how to increase access to high quality care at lower cost. The report outlines eight strategies for policymakers to consider as they work to implement federal and state health reforms, including recommendations regarding increased access, care integration and payment reform, prevention and public health and preparing the Minnesota health workforce of the future.

“These thoughtful recommendations are the result of deep discussion over the past year on the most pressing health care issues and best opportunities for reform in Minnesota,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who chairs the task force.

The Roadmap includes policy strategies for creating more patient-centered coordinated care, changing payment structures to incentivize keeping people healthy, engaging communities in designing healthier environments and encouraging increased personal responsibility in health and health care. Specific recommendations include support for expanding Medicaid eligibility to Minnesotans living at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (an option for states under the Affordable Care Act) and support for establishment of a Minnesota-based health insurance exchange using a public-private governance model.

The Health Reform Task Force was authorized by the Legislature to provide advice on federal and state health reform implementation. The task force held 65 public meetings between November 2011 and December 2012, including meetings in Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud and St. Paul. Over the course of the past year, approximately 1,500 people attended these public task force meetings, including more than 100 individuals and organizations that provided in-person testimony. Thousands of people weighed in with their ideas. (Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services)

Personal care attendants may organize

Dozens of personal care assistants who care for the elderly and people with disabilities were at the state capitol Dec. 12, to press their case. They said tens of thousands of their number are struggling to make ends meet because of low wages and lack of benefits. The workers seeking to organize are those who are paid with Medicaid dollars at rates set by the state, said Brian Elliott, executive director for the Minnesota chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Current state law prohibits home health care workers from organizing a union. Many workers believe having a union is critical to making their voices heard as the state plots its course for meeting the needs of a rapidly aging population. Workers also believe a union would help legitimize the home health care profession and ensure workers are treated with the respect they deserve. But there are concerns that unionization could add to costs of personal care attendant or PCA services.

SEIU Healthcare and Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are leading the charge to change state law. The distinction made in state law is between workers employed by home health care agencies, many of whom are unionized already, and workers who are providing so-called “self-directed” care. Considered more like independent contractors by the state, workers in self-directed programs are denied organizing rights. (Source: SEIU, Union Advocate)

‘Together, We Work’ conference

“Employment is so important, not just in terms of economic security, but also in how it helps unlock the potential of individuals to strive and seek and achieve,” said Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. That was her message at the Dec. 5 “Together, We Work,” the first conference hosted by Minnesota APSE (Association of People Supporting Employment First) and Pathways to Employment.

The two-day event brought together people with disabilities, employers, supported employment service providers and advocates to make connections and discover ways to increase employment opportunities even in times of scarce resources.

With $15 million in federal grants since 2000, Minnesota has used Pathways to Employment to build infrastructure, promote change and improve work outcomes.

The legacy includes the Disability Benefits 101 website, which provides tools and information on health coverage, benefits and employment so that people with disabilities can plan for their work life, as well as an assessment process that identifies individuals’ strengths with an eye to employment, partnerships with schools to help young people with disabilities make the transition from school to work, and technical assistance to service agencies to increase competitive employment and earnings for people with disabilities.

Jesson said jobs continue to be a top priority for the state, and jobs for people with disabilities a top priority for the department. (Source: Minnesota Department of Human Services)

Tinnitus sidelines radio host

Veteran radio personality Ian Punnett stepped down from myTalk 107.1 FM’s morning radio show due to tinnitus. The co-host of “Ian and Margery” needs to reduce his exposure to audio and focus on his health issues. Buzzing in his ears, headaches and related sleep issues have been a problem for Punnett since 2009. He first experienced tinnitus while at the Minnesota State Fair.

Punnett announced last month that he would be leaving the airwaves. On its website, myTalk 107.1 announced that Ian’s wife, Margery Punnett will remain on-air and a new station lineup will be announced soon. The radio website stated that, “Ian has been a critical part of this radio station since the very beginning. The Ian and Margery Show has been a part of who we are for more than ten years. His humor, professionalism and kindness have helped this station grow, develop and thrive. He has been a confidante, jokester and the number one cheerleader for this radio  station and for the format. Way beyond being our coworker… he is our dear friend and mentor.” (Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, myTalk 107.1)

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