Agreement reached on Minnesota health bill

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2010 - 5:06 PM

The heath and human services bill cuts spending by $114 million. Final legislative action could come soon, but the governor said earlier he would veto it.

House and Senate conferees reached agreement early Wednesday on another piece of Minnesota's budget puzzle, a bill that would preserve the state's core health and human services programs while cutting $114 million in the current budget cycle and another $155 million in 2012-13.

The measure could get final passage late Wednesday or early Thursday, but faces a veto threat from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has opposed several provisions. Leaders of the committee were to meet Wednesday with his staff to discuss the bill.

Chief among Pawlenty's objections has been a provision that would move about 37,000 poor, sick Minnesotans from the state's scaled-back General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program into an expanded state-federal Medicaid program.

His administration earlier estimated that the move would bring in about $900 million over the next three years until 2014, when the federal government would pick up the entire cost. The state would have to match that in the meantime, a pricetag the governor says is too high.

But leaders of the committee said the state's general fund cost actually will be less than $200 million, in part because the bill also would draw more federal dollars than Pawlenty had counted on.

Under the federal health care overhaul signed by President Obama in March, Minnesota and 10 other states that already had been using their own money to cover poor, childless adults get a head start over other states in tapping federal money for those programs. Minnesota can get a 50-percent federal match until 2014, when federal funds will pay the full bill to cover those beneficiaries in all states.

Here's how a House conferee, Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, explained the math contained in the compromise bill:

Minnesota now is scheduled to spend about $1.2 billion to cover health care for about 82,000 childless adults for the next three years. About 39,000 are in GAMC, 31,000 in MinnesotaCare for lower-income working people and 12,000 in Transitional MinnesotaCare. Under the compromise bill, Minnesota would draw down about $1.4 billion in federal money over three years - leaving about $190 million the state must come up with in state money.

"So the cost is far less than the governor had estimated because we do a better job of raising federal money, and we actually can get coverage for an additional 20,000 people, about 102,000 people total," Thissen said. "This is a very smart bill. It accomplishes more than I think we knew we could do."

There was no immediate response from the governor's office, where officials were waiting to get and read a copy of the committee's compromise, completed at 3 a.m. Wednesday.

"We hope the governor can see the benefits of this bill -- getting better health coverage for our people, giving health care providers better reimbursement and on top of that pretty much matching the amount of budget cuts he wanted,'' said Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, one of the lead conferees.

"Essentially, we've made cuts without having to cut people off of health and human services programs, and we've accepted many of the cuts the governor already made," she said. "But I long ago gave up predicting what the governor will do."

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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