Scott Dibble: Hurricane Tim must help repair his damage

  • Article by: SCOTT DIBBLE
  • Updated: November 9, 2009 - 11:06 AM

 This spring, Gov. Tim Pawlenty unilaterally instituted budget reductions to vital state services, not the least of which will eliminate health insurance for more than 30,000 Minnesotans. It's unfortunate that instead of working with legislators to undo the damage of those cuts, he has invested what little time he has these days for Minnesota's business to a spending-cap gimmick that will go nowhere and accomplish nothing.

The impact of spending cuts will be felt in every part of the state, but Hennepin County will be exceptionally hard hit. It is home to an estimated 40 percent of the people singled out with the governor's line-item veto of General Assistance Medical Care, a health insurance option for adult Minnesotans who can't get insurance any other way.

To qualify, a GAMC enrollee cannot earn more than $8,123 a year, and a majority of these citizens struggle with mental health issues, addiction and other challenges. The GAMC program provides a safety net for the Minnesotans who rely on this health coverage, as well as for Minnesotans who pay property taxes and pay health insurance premiums.

By making sure our poorest and sickest residents are cared for, the program prevents hospitals from passing on the cost of treating the uninsured. It's a small investment at the front end to avoid needless suffering and a long-term economic catastrophe.

But Hennepin County could be headed straight for such a catastrophe. Without GAMC, many of our fellow citizens will be left without care. Many will show up at the emergency room of the Hennepin County Medical Center. Others will wind up homeless or acting out in ways that bring them in contact with police. These effects will, paradoxically, drive up insurance premiums and taxes for not just the poorest and sickest, but for all Minnesotans.

In just the past year, Hennepin County has lost $24 million under the governor's unallotments, and it has budgeted an additional $18 million out of next year's budget to make up for the expected surge of uninsured citizens seeking medical care at HCMC. The hospital itself expects to incur at least a $57.2 million loss next year because of the governor's health care cuts and unallotments.

While these actions may have temporarily balanced the state's budget in a technical sense, Hennepin County residents now are left to pick up the pieces.

Care options will be reduced as HCMC -- one of the premier research, teaching and trauma hospitals in the country -- will have to significantly reduce its mission and close health clinics. Property taxpayers will feel the effects in their pocketbooks: the Hennepin County Board is contemplating that a full 3 percent of its property tax levy increase for 2010 be dedicated entirely to revenue needed to cover some of the hospital's funding gap caused by the GAMC cuts.

As we prepare for the 2010 legislative session, lawmakers already are working on reforms and funding mechanisms that can save GAMC before the governor's cuts take effect in March.

It is time for the governor to heed his constituents and public partners. He has one year left in this office, and one year left to remedy the difficult position in which his decisions have left the people of this state. He must be willing to cooperate on a solution to our problems in order to avoid long-term, wide-ranging consequences that will affect every Minnesotan.

Scott Dibble, a Democrat, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.

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