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Minnesota Legislature

Free heart screenings could protect student athletes, but policy change needed

Despite routine doctor’s appointments and sports physicals, Patrick Schoonover and his family had no idea that the 14-year-old had multiple heart defects, which led to his death during a hockey game in November 2014.

Since then, the Patrick Schoonover Heart Foundation has worked to provide education and free screenings to student-athletes in hopes of preventing similar tragedies.

Unfortunately, the foundation’s work may be forced to stop because of a state statute that bars it from accessing insurance for physicians volunteering their time, Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River), told the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee Tuesday.

He sponsors HF2027, which would allow health care facilities and charitable organizations to access liability insurance though a volunteer health care provider program if providing free monitoring or screening services to detect undiagnosed diseases and conditions.

The committee approved the bill as amended and referred it to the House Floor.

A companion, SF2081, is sponsored by Sen. Scott Jensen (R-Chaska) and awaits action by the full Senate.

Currently, organizations can only access this particular program if providing health care services to the uninsured and underinsured, Zerwas said.

This excludes the Patrick Schoonover Heart Foundation because the organization provides screening services, not health care, and serves students between the ages of 14 and 24, regardless of whether they have insurance, said George Singer, the foundation’s general counsel.

Since “Play for Patrick” screenings began in August 2015, the foundation has screened more than 2,700 kids, finding 157 with high blood pressure and 218 with abnormal electrical or structural heart defects, he said.

Volunteer physicians met with families to discuss the screening results and recommended follow-up with primary-care physicians as needed, he said.

In addition, the foundation taught more than 2,500 children and adults about CPR and automated external defibrillators, and donated six of these devices to area high schools.

Rep. Kristin Bahner (DFL-Maple Grove) spoke in strong support of the bill, saying that it has “incredible merit,” as many people live with undiagnosed, and potentially life-threatening, cardiac conditions.

Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Mpls) expressed concern that the language was too broad and could allow anybody to use “free screenings” as a “marketing technique” for services with purported health benefits.

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