The state of Minnesota launched a blue ribbon commission last year with a big goal: Find $100 million of savings in health and human services programs.

The group has met that charge by proposing 24 strategies that would amount to $100 million saved, Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead told state senators last week. She urged legislators to consider their report, released this fall, as they look to address a projected $1.3 billion shortfall in the next state budget.

The commission was a mix of legislators, state officials, community members and service providers. Their work followed calls from GOP legislators to reduce waste and fraud in state programs and a shake-up in Human Services, where several top executives had recently resigned.

They were also supposed to help transform the state's Health and Human Services departments to make them more efficient and result in better health outcomes for Minnesotans. But they fell short on that front as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the commission's work and diverted Health Department staff, state officials said.

"It is urgent that we do continue not only to take a look at those near-term opportunities to see which ones make the most sense in the current climate, but also that we come back to some of those broader transformational opportunities," Health Department Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

The commission's 24 cost-saving ideas ranged from reconfiguring nonemergency medical transportation to reducing the use of high-cost services for people who have Medicaid disability waivers. Those two suggestions were each projected to save more than $10 million in the next two-year budget for 2022 and 2023. The group estimated expanding investigative work to identify waste, fraud and abuse could save up to $1 million.

The group found a trio of strategies to address health inequities. They proposed expanding dental access through a school-based program, studying whether there is equitable access to aging and disability services programs, and changing how case management works to reduce disparities in access to medical, behavioral and social services. The cost of those efforts was not clear in the report.

The blue ribbon group did not have time to do a final review of its 24 strategies to cut spending, and commissioners described them as ideas to consider rather than recommendations.

The debate is not over. Comments from businesses, nonprofits and individuals included in the report cautioned against certain cuts and suggested other ideas to explore. And legislators said they want to discuss the commission's suggestions as separate bills — not all lumped into one package — during the session that starts in January.

The Legislature already adjusted its plans for the next budget to account for $100 million in savings. If lawmakers don't act on some of the suggestions, the state plans to take the rest of the money out of reserves.

Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044