Dayton assails Pawlenty on plan delay

  • Star Tribune
  • December 20, 2010 - 10:07 PM

Minnesota Gov.-elect Mark Dayton said Monday that the outgoing Pawlenty administration has been "hugely irresponsible" and put out untrustworthy numbers regarding expanding Medicaid to broaden health care coverage for more poor Minnesotans.

"I don't trust anything that I've been told now," said Dayton, a Democrat. He said he was "deeply distressed" after what he called a "candid" meeting with Pawlenty's top human services chief, Cal Ludeman.

At issue: switching coverage to the health care program funded 50 percent by the federal government. Officials with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration said at a legislative hearing last week that even if Dayton signs an executive order making the change his first day in office, it will take until Oct. 1, 2011, to enact. Dayton said he and others should have been made aware of the long lead time months ago.

The change could draw more than $1 billion in federal dollars and cover 95,000 poor adult Minnesotans. Pawlenty opposed shifting patients out of state-funded MinnesotaCare and General Assistance Medical Care, but struck a deal with the Legislature to allow his successor to make the change through executive order.

Since Election Day, Dayton had only gently criticized the Republican administration and held a genial public appearance with Pawlenty. Dayton's strong words Monday were a departure from that amiable stance.

He said Pawlenty and his administration showed "a fundamental lack of disclosure and basic integrity" and that Pawlenty and Human Services Commissioner Ludeman should be held accountable for any federal cash Minnesota misses out on because of the delay. Ludeman said Dayton could have known the program change would take time.

"He should not have been surprised by this, and if he was, it was not the fault of this administration. This has been talked about for a long period of time," Ludeman said. He said he had no obligation to personally inform Dayton.

Ludeman said department officials told legislative leaders and staff that the change, which would provide health care to 83,000 people now covered by the state programs and 12,000 who lack coverage, would take months to create.

But at least one legislative expert on health care said that she was as shocked as Dayton when she discovered that the much-discussed expansion of health care would take so long. State Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said no one from the department reported needing nine months of prep work until Assistant Human Commissioner Brian Osberg mentioned it this month.

"I was quite surprised. ... I said, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" Berglin said.

Dayton said when his administration takes office Jan. 3, he immediately will sign the order enacting the program and do "everything humanly possible" to make sure those in need get coverage quickly.

Staff writer Kevin Duchschere contributed to this report.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164

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