Every time a patient walks out of my exam room, I know they’re walking into a world where their health is affected by numerous factors beyond my control. But rarely am I as concerned about the state Legislature’s impact on my patients’ health as I am this year.
The health care provider tax, which provides significant funding for the Health Care Access Fund (HCAF) and coverage for many of my patients, is set to expire in December. The simplest, most effective solution would be to continue the provider tax — a once-groundbreaking and now time-tested way to provide access to health insurance to more than 1 million Minnesotans, including 600,000 children.
However, as championed in the April 29 commentary (“Replace the provider tax with an insurance claim fee”), there is an alternative being considered by legislators, — and it has many pediatricians troubled. The commentary failed to mention that Michigan tried to implement an insurance claims fee to fund similar purposes, but it didn’t raise the projected revenue, putting access to health care for hundreds of thousands at risk. Eventually, Michigan repealed the tax last June and installed a replacement.
One point we at Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics agree with is the need for a sustainable funding source for the HCAF. When more children are covered by insurance, more children are likely to receive the services they need, including: periodic checkups from infancy to adolescence, immunizations required for school, developmental and behavioral screenings, fluoride varnish that protects from cavities, and guidance about safe and healthy behaviors.
As a statewide collective of pediatricians, we are advocating for a tax that we have to pay for because it helps children and because it’s a straightforward, time-tested solution. For nearly 20 years, health care providers have paid 2 cents for every dollar generated to ensure that access to health care isn’t a burden but an opportunity for early intervention.
It’s an opportunity for us to make sure when the mom of our 6-year old patient with asthma loses her job, she can still afford the medicine she needs. An opportunity for the baby with an extra chromosome to get the care necessary to live his fullest life with his abilities. An opportunity for a toddler placed in foster care to access therapy to overcome the trauma she experienced.
Pediatricians were among the strongest advocates of the provider tax when it was passed back in 1992. That’s because children’s access to health care has always been a top priority. Now we are proud to be among more than 150 other organizations that support a straight repeal of the sunset of the provider tax.
Sue Berry, of St. Paul, is a pediatrician and co-chair of the policy work group of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.