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Bruce Vickmark, New York Times

Jim Abeler: A job well done on health, human services

  • Article by: JIM ABELER
  • July 20, 2011 - 7:11 PM
'Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Those words, penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, represent quite well the work done by legislators, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and Gov. Mark Dayton on Minnesota's new health and human services budget.

Instead of continuing down the path of unsustainable growth and inefficient care delivery, we turned in the direction of reform toward a patient-centered and sustainable system, continuing our role as a national health care leader.

Despite our early differences, the governor, Jesson and legislators came together to craft a positive budget in a challenging situation. Minnesotans can be proud of this kind of work. The compromise of legislative proposals and the governor's requests includes substantial reform, streamlining and improvements to our state health care system.

We accomplished our work without surcharges and without tax increases. We bent the cost curve from future increases of over 22 percent down to a manageable 4.8 percent. We prevented cuts to nursing homes, boosted rural care and minimized reductions to disability services.

Where reductions were needed, they were targeted and done with care to maintain the integrity of the whole system. We reformed the critical areas of care delivery, county services and safety net programs. Perhaps most important, we made public programs more flexible, accessible, effective and sustainable.

"Reform" is a word thrown about much today; our legislation actually accomplishes this work. Instead of "kicking the can down the road," we faced the real problems head-on. One major program change is the creation of the Healthy Minnesota Contribution Program, an initiative that Health and Human Services Reform chair Steve Gottwalt worked on for several years.

This innovative project provides a subsidy to purchase private health care coverage for adults without children and with income above 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. It encourages quality and value in care, and healthy choices in behavior.

In the area of health care delivery, we achieve significant managed-care reforms, including contracting and payment reforms and competitive bidding. The latter was proposed in my initial legislation and in an executive order from the governor earlier this session.

As we look to make better use of funding, we streamline county human-services eligibility and delivery, establishing service delivery authorities to enable counties to operate with more flexibility and fewer mandates.

Finally, we include proposals for Medicaid fraud detection and integrated eligibility initiatives, both of which leverage technology to make our system more cost-efficient and accountable to taxpayers and service recipients.

Neither side achieved everything it wanted -- that is the nature of compromise. The steps we took represent generational change and positive progress. Spending is no longer on autopilot, and reform is no longer off the table.

With the tone set by this bill, I look forward to even more nation-leading reform come next session.

Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, is chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee.

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