Updated: 4:50 p.m. | Posted: 5:53 a.m.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday signed a bill to direct $200 million toward a health care response fund aimed at helping front-line workers respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Our health care facilities are Minnesota’s first line of defense against COVID-19,” Walz said in a news release. “I am proud of this urgent, bipartisan action to support our state’s health care infrastructure during this unprecedented public health event.”
The money the bill contains can be used to pay staff, set up temporary testing and treatment units, purchase protective gear and make other changes aimed at slowing the spread of the contagious virus.
Minnesota has seen its number of infections jump by the day and as more tests are conducted. As of Monday, there were 60 known cases in several counties.
In the bill, there’s a focus on working to keep those suspected or concerned about having coronavirus separate from other medical populations. One way is by expanding the reach of online medicine.
“This would allow telemedicine to be used right from a person’s home,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, one of the bill’s architects. “So we think that at this time of crisis, that might be a very useful thing for people to be able to access the healthcare they need right from their homes.”
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake and the main sponsor in her chamber, said the money is meant to help everyone. Providers who take the money must test and treat people even if they lack insurance.
“The eligible provider cannot bill uninsured patients,” Benson said. “The eligible provider if they are out of the patient’s network, must accept the median network rate and will agree not to balance bill that individual.”
The bill passed on votes of 108-0 in the House and 55-0 in the Senate. After that, lawmakers left the Capitol for what could be weeks of stop-and-start meetings. They passed a resolution permitting them to convene on an on-call basis to pass urgent bills but the Legislature could be mostly dark until April 14. Leaders say work will continue behind the scenes and legislators will be available for remote constituent meetings.
The emergency aid bill gives the Minnesota Department of Health $150 million to make grants to providers for costs related to the pandemic. Eligible providers include health care or long-term care facilities, clinics, providers, pharmacies, ambulance services and health systems.
According to a summary provided by the House, grants may be used for:
Establishment and operation of temporary sites to provide testing services, to provide treatment beds or to isolate or quarantine affected individuals.
Temporary conversion of a space for another purpose that will revert to its original use.
Staff overtime and hiring additional staff.
Staff training and orientation.
Purchasing consumable protective or treatment supplies and equipment to protect or treat staff, visitors and patients.
Development and implementation of screening and testing procedures.
Patient outreach activities.
Additional emergency transportation of patients.
Temporary IT and systems costs to support patient triage, screening and telemedicine activities.
Purchasing replacement parts or filters for medical equipment that are necessary for the equipment’s operation.
Specialty cleaning supplies.
Expenses related to the isolation or quarantine of staff (not including wages).
Other expenses not expected to generate income for the eligible provider after the outbreak ends.
The bill includes an additional $50 million for the public health response contingency account.