Throughout the year, our blog will feature AHA volunteer stories of survival and hope. We know there are thousands of stories like these - thats why we want to say “Thanks” to all of you for giving your time and sharing your lives with us. You can’t spell CURE without U! Thank you for all you do to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. YOU’RE THE CURE!

Monday, May 2, 2011

May 2011 Minnesota Policy Update

The Minnesota Legislative Session enters the home stretch with a May 23rd date for adjournment. You will see action alerts from us in the coming weeks as final budget negotiations wind down and the legislature finalizes any policy bills. This is final decision time for the legislature—this is when it is most important for us to be communicating with legislators. TAKE ACTION when you see alerts from us in the coming weeks. We will keep you up to date on developments if the Legislature/Governor do not finish their business on time and a special session is required. We will continue to keep you updated on our progress.

Thank you for your continued support!
Anne, Justin and Rachel

Policy Updates:

Minnesota Budget Showdown: The budget battle between the Governor and Legislature is far from over and although both House & Senate leaders have insisted that they will have a balanced budget by the May 23rd deadline, they couldn’t be much further apart from the Governor’s proposal. Governor Dayton’s Budget (released on Feb. 15th) included $700 million in cuts, but relied heavily on increasing taxes on the richest few percent of Minnesotans. The GOP controlled Legislature has vowed to balance the over $5 billion shortfall by spending cuts alone and not raising taxes.

The biggest set of proposed cuts is to Health & Human Services and would affect tens of thousands in Minnesota. For example:
  • The Senate bill would dramatically restructure public health insurance in Minnesota. Participants in Medical Assistance (MA) and all MinnesotaCare enrollees would lose their health care coverage and would instead be provided with a set amount to purchase coverage in the private market. These low-income individuals would likely face higher out-of-pocket costs for premiums, deductibles and copayments. The proposal is projected to save over $600 million but requires approval from the federal government. The Minnesota Department of Human Services believes the state is unlikely to receive that permission, meaning the state may not achieve the expected savings in the general fund.

The need to cut services like these could be limited with an increase in the state tobacco tax, which in addition to garnering a savings to the state of $1.3 billion in health care costs, can also bring $128 million into the state coffers each year.

School Liability/Joint Use legislation (HF1343/SF1068) spearheaded by American Heart Association has advanced through two legislative committees. This legislation seeks to make it easier for schools to open their facilities to outside groups and community members by clarifying the liability requirements and limits for schools. Research has shown that people who have parks or recreational facilities nearby exercise 38 percent more than those who do not have easy access. The bill will have two additional hearings in final House and Senate committees. While the budget is taking center stage, we hope this is one of the few proactive policy measures to pass the Legislature this year.

New resource on the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) —one of our top priorities this session is to fund SHIP. SHIP was established as part of Minnesota’s 2008 health care reform law. This forward-thinking investment promotes healthier behaviors and reduces health care costs over the long term by tackling obesity and tobacco use at the local community level. AHA seeks to continue stable funding for this bipartisan and visionary program. New fact sheets detailing each local program are now available on the Minnesota Department of Health website.

Update on our three-pronged approach to tobacco policy this year:

  • So far we have successfully defended Freedom to Breathe. While bills have been introduced to weaken the law, they have not been heard in committee and we have not seen amendments on the floor. Thanks to strong grassroots pressure, legislators are hearing the message loud and clear—“Don’t weaken Freedom to Breathe!” Let’s keep the pressure strong through the remainder of the session.
  • Protect kids from little cigars that are identical to cigarettes but cost less and come in “candy” flavors like grape, chocolate, and peach. HF743/SF493 would close a loophole in the law that allows these “little cigars” to be sold at half the price as cigarettes, which makes them more accessible to kids. Our bill has been heard in the Senate Tax Committee and awaits a hearing in House Tax Committee.
  • Increase the Price of Tobacco—this strategy has been proven to be one of the most effective strategies to reduce youth smoking, help smokers quit, and save health care dollars. While our coalition has not introduced a bill, we have been planting the seeds with legislators that this would be a good strategy in the final budget deal. Increasing the price of tobacco by $1.50 per pack could raise $128 million per year, prevent 60,000 kids from becoming smokers, and help 28,000 adults quit smoking. This is a win-win for the state and should be included in the final budget package.

April Recap:

Minnesota Heart on the Hill Day at the Capitol a Success

Our Heart on the Hill Day at the Capitol in conjunction with the Raise it for Health coalition was held on April 7. This was one of our biggest events yet, with more than 400 people in attendance! Thanks to our advocates who attended, we were able to hold constituent meetings with two-thirds of the Minnesota legislature advocating on three tobacco issues – defending Freedom to Breathe, passing the “Little Cigar Bill” and encouraging legislators to increase the price of tobacco. Watch the Day at the Capitol video here and for photo and more information on the day, visit our blog.

Minnesota Advocates Hit Capitol Hill

On April 11 and 12th the American Heart Association held its Federal Lobby Day in Washington D.C. Minnesota was well represented by volunteer advocates Stevie Nelson, Mark Olson and Jack Olwell, as well as Heart Association staff Justin Bell and Heather Shetka. We were there to meet with our members of congress to ask for their support increasing NIH funding for heart disease and stroke research, the FIT Kids Act and Safe Routes to Schools. Read more here…

Walk with Us! Join Team You’re the Cure for the Twin Cities Heart Walk

Join our You’re the Cure Heart Walk team and walk with fellow advocates in taking a stand against heart disease and helping save lives! The walk is happening on Saturday, June 4th at Target Field. Follow this link to join our team and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you are not able to join our heart walk team this year, please consider supporting us with a donation. We look forward to walking with you on June 4th!

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