Peggy Bennett: Health care access important in the area

Published 7:26 pm Friday, March 9, 2018

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Finishing up our third week in St. Paul means we’re about 25 percent finished with the 2018 legislative session. It’s flying by quickly, but not without taking important steps for our area. This year, I’m working on a number of health care initiatives to increase access — especially in rural Minnesota — and to lower costs on our residents.

Peggy Bennett

On Wednesday, I presented my bill, HF3189, to both tax committees in the House. Thank you to Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams and Blooming Prairie Mayor Harold Peterson for testifying in favor of the legislation and for voicing the extreme struggles rural areas like ours are experiencing in loss of health care services and increased costs.

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This bill would create tax incentives for medical facilities, such as hospitals, birthing centers and clinics, to encourage them to locate to underserved areas in rural Minnesota. In our area — and throughout much of Greater Minnesota — we’re seeing a reduction in health care services and options, and my legislation is one tool for local governments to make it easier for medical facilities to locate to rural parts of the state. This is especially important in cities like Albert Lea and Blooming Prairie, where we have lost critical health services.

Another bill I introduced would create three different health impact studies that local communities could request from the Minnesota Department of Health when hospitals plan to remove essential services from their community. It also would require a 60-day advance notice from the hospital to MDH, and the hospital could take no action until the impact study was complete. The goal of this bill is to give hospitals and local communities the opportunity to evaluate and have a dialog about the economic and health impacts of removing essential services from an area before those moves take place.

The last health care bill I’m working on right now relates to the Destination Medical Center funding. The legislation would allow local communities like ours, which have lost key Mayo services, to be able to access the DMC funds to pay for health care-related infrastructure (buildings, roads, parking lots, etc.) similar to how the Rochester area does. This allows local communities that have lost Mayo services to see some of the benefits of the DMC funding.

One health care proposal I’ve heard bandied about the Capitol relates to the idea of MinnesotaCare for all. While this might sound promising, the negatives far outweigh the benefits. This plan would make it even more difficult for hospitals in rural Minnesota to continue operating — something we definitely do not want to do. MinnesotaCare reimbursement rates that go to hospitals and medical facilities are much lower than those for privately insured individuals and do not even come close to covering the actual costs. This means rural hospitals — whose budgets are already stretched thin just to maintain service — receive less funding. In this plan, we’d see even more rural hospitals shutter their doors, leaving us with fewer and fewer options. We need to incentivize medical facilities to locate and stay in underserved areas, not drive them away.

Knowing how important local hospitals and rural health care are in our area, I’m taking active steps to increase access and lower costs. As my bills — as well as other proposals — continue through the legislative process, I welcome any and all input for ways to help improve health care throughout Greater Minnesota.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 27A representative.