Adding 95,000 state residents to the state-federal program will get underway in March, not October.
Briskly brushing aside the views of his predecessor, Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday that Minnesota will begin a major expansion of its Medicaid program on March 1, not in October as the Pawlenty administration had projected.
His decision to move about 95,000 patients into Medicaid was a "no-brainer," Dayton said at a news conference.
The shift will offer more comprehensive care for most of the affected patients and is expected to bring Minnesota about $1.1 billion in federal funds over the next biennium. There will be no net cost to the state beyond what it would have spent for those patients who are currently on two state health plans, state analysts concluded.
While the move was applauded by many health care providers and Dayton's DFL allies, Republicans said the expansion will be shortsighted.
"Moving the expansion into the current budget cycle exacerbates an already challenging situation," said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. He said federal budget problems mean Minnesota "could be victimized by 'promised' federal dollars" that don't materialize.
Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, Abeler's Senate counterpart, said the Republican-controlled Legislature could vote to reverse Dayton's decision, though he noted it would be largely symbolic since Dayton has said he would veto such a bill.
Dayton's announcement was the first step in his march to implement what he can of the new federal health care law -- a law that former Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposed.
The second step, also announced Thursday, will be to apply this month for a $1 million federal grant to help the state create a state "insurance exchange." The federal law envisions such exchanges as a regulated market where consumers can shop for health insurance and compare policies. Federal officials told Dayton last week that the state will receive the grant by March 1.
Pawlenty last year refused to seek the planning money and forbade state agencies from seeking any federal health law grants without his permission.
Pawlenty administration officials had said the Medicaid expansion would take about nine months because of the need to reprogram computers and train staff.
But Dayton's human services commissioner, Cindy Jesson, said Thursday that 32,000 of the patients will make a "seamless transition" because they're already on a state program using the same computers.
Moving 51,000 people in a second state program could take six months, although they will have retroactive Medicaid coverage starting March 1, and the state will also begin an outreach campaign to an estimated 12,000 uninsured people, Jesson said.
Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253