Legislators Advance Bills in Preparation for COVID-19
On March 10, 2020 by Libbie Chapuran
There are multiple bills are moving through the Legislature in order to prepare the state for a public health response to COVID-19. The House and Senate fast-tracked nearly $21 million for a contingency fund and are now considering legislation on a health care response loan program and a peacetime public health emergency.
$21 Million Added to Public Health Response Contingency Fund
The House and Senate approved the transfer of $20.9 million from the General Fund to the state’s public health response contingency account, a fund that already contains nearly $5 million. The additional funding is expected to cover agency staffing and laboratory costs, personal protective equipment, and support for local public health and health care coalitions.
Health Care Response Loan Program
An ample public health response is key to containing a COVID-19 outbreak. However, lawmakers understand that hospitals, clinics and long-term care providers are accruing costs to prepare for COVID-19 and would undoubtedly accrue additional costs should an outbreak occur.
HF 4327 would create a health care response loan program to make no- or low-interest loans to health care providers, systems, clinics and facilities, including long-term care, for costs to plan or respond to a communicable disease outbreak. The money could be used for staffing, training, supplies, equipment, screening procedures and isolating patients. The bill was laid over on Tuesday in the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee and is scheduled for more discussion on Wednesday.
Legislators are working to strike a careful balance between ensuring providers are prepared to care for those with the virus while making sure limited resources are spent wisely and where they are needed the most. It is likely the bill will be amended throughout the process and may be expanded to include loan forgiveness criteria.
Our Request to You - Track All Expenses: While at this time no additional dollars have been appropriated directly to providers to prepare for COVID-19, we encourage providers to carefully track all expenses related to infection control efforts at this time. We are working with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to help estimate the potential costs associated with a COVID-19 outbreak in our member communities and will work with members to gather data to inform policy solutions.
Peacetime Public Health Emergency
HF 4327l would also allow the governor to declare a peacetime public health emergency, which is defined as a determination by the health commissioner that the public’s health is affected or under imminent threat from pandemic influenza or an outbreak of a communicable or infectious disease that:
- is reasonably expected to require evacuation of the impacted population, relocation of seriously ill or injured or replacement of essential community services;
- poses a probability of a large number of deaths, serious injuries or long-term disabilities; and
- involves widespread exposure to an infectious agent that poses a significant risk of harm to a large number of people in an affected area or a high rate of sickness or death in the population.
According to testimony in the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, a declaration of a public health emergency would expand the state’s powers that include entering contracts, hiring temporary employees, and obtaining equipment without having to go through a normal procurement process. The governor could also direct health and law enforcement personnel around the state to provide services if, for example, there was an outbreak in a long-term care setting.
We are trying to get the best, most relevant information to share with lawmakers about the costs associated with preparing and responding to COVID-19 in long-term care settings. We will likely reach out to members to gather data to support inform policy solutions.
Congress Approves Funding to Fight Coronavirus
The U.S. Congress passed legislation last week with near-unanimous support allocating about $8.3 billion to fight coronavirus. The appropriation includes:
- More than $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s support of federal, state and local public health agencies;
- $3 billion for research and development on vaccines and other treatments; and
- Nearly $1 billion for medical supplies, community health centers and healthcare preparedness.