“There are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation.”  I was reminded of this over-used saying today when I went to observe a hearing to repeal legislation that was passed last year under less than optimal circumstances.  Apparently, the provision in question was part of a compromise bill which would end the 20-day state government shutdown.  In classic fashion, it was passed late at night and was probably cobbled together by people who were sleep deprived (or worse).  It was a provision which was intended to keep the SHIP (State Health Improvement Program) spirit alive after funding for SHIP itself had been significantly slashed.  The provision, frankly, while well-intended, was not very clear or understandable.

I learned about this whole issue a couple of months ago through one of my health disparities list serves and out of curiosity attended a meeting which brought together representatives of minority organizations and the Minnesota Department of Health.  While I could see that the statute didn’t make complete sense, it still seemed like it presented an opportunity for underrepresented communities to get involved in a dialogue with health plans and hospitals about how to address health disparities and improve the health of their communities. 

The hospitals, on the other hand, were none too happy with the arguably heavy handed legislation and introduced a bill to repeal it.  That bill was the subject of the hearing today.  Everyone, including the Health Department deputy commissioner, agreed that the legislation, as drafted, was a mess.  The main objection by the bill’s main sponsor and the hospitals testifying was that it interfered with local control.  Some legislators, however, thought it was a good idea to require some kind of ongoing dialogue and process involving the health department, hospitals and health plans (which all enjoy tax advantages), local public health departments and local community organizations to build upon proven strategies to prevent obesity, tobacco use and other public health problems.

In the absence of any alternative bill on the table, the committee voted (though not unanimously) to repeal the flawed provision.  Stay tuned – I predict a compromise will emerge.

 The “offending language” itself can be viewed here (see the crossed out section).