House passes bill to move thousands of Minnesotans onto Medicaid

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS
  • Star Tribune
  • February 11, 2013 - 11:28 PM

Minnesota is a step closer to expanding Medicaid to thousands, while saving the state millions.

On Monday the House voted 71-56 to take the federal government up on its offer to cover the multimillion-dollar cost of extending state health care to 35,000 childless adults living just above the poverty line. Republicans objected, saying that if federal support dried up, the state would have to carry the added cost alone, but the party failed to muster enough votes to block passage.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who hopes to have the bill on his desk by Friday so he can add those millions in Medicaid savings to his budget forecast for the coming year, sees no downside.

"It's really about whether we want to have the federal government pay for it, or we want to pay for it ourselves. I think that's a very easy question for both sides of the aisle," Dayton told reporters.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the bill not only would infuse millions into the state's general fund, it could pump more than $1 billion more into the state health care system than providers currently receive. It would allow the state to shift people out of the state-subsidized MinnesotaCare program and into the federal program where, Huntley said, they would get better benefits and be exempt from MinnesotaCare's $10,000 cap on hospital stays. Medicaid expansion is expected to save the state $129 million over the next two years and $237 million in the following biennium.

If the Medicaid expansion bill becomes law, the new coverage would begin in January.

The federal government has pledged to fully fund the expansion through 2016 for childless adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty line, $15,414. The fed's share would drop to 90 percent in 2020.

About 20 states have opted in.

Still, critics remain leery of the expansion.

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe -- who has written an entire e-book criticizing the Obama administration's health care policies -- described the expansion as a "sledgehammer" aimed at a small percentage of Minnesotans who lack health coverage. Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, proposed an amendment that would have allowed the state to drop the expansion if the federal government fails to cover the lion's share of the costs. That amendment was defeated.

The legislation is expected to move to the Senate floor next and could be on Dayton's desk by the end of the week.

Rachel Stassen-Berger contributed to this story. Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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