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Minnesota task force finalizes plan for implementing federal health care reform

Lucinda Jesson
Lucinda Jesson

A Dayton administration task force has finalized its recommendations for implementing federal health care reform and lowering Minnesota’s increasing health care costs.

The key goal, as Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson put it: “We just need more health for our dollar.”

Thursday’s report, which will go to the Legislature and the governor, endorses work the Dayton administration already has undertaken to create a state-based health insurance exchange — a key mechanism of the federal health care law — and to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Republicans and Democrats said that both measures would be early-session priorities when lawmakers return next month. The state faces tight deadlines to tackle the exchange in order to avoid federal government intervention, which the task force, governor and industry stakeholders want to avoid.

The task force also tackled recommendations for how to replace MinnesotaCare, a program for the working poor that doesn’t comply with the federal law. Some specifics in the report are limited because U.S. Health and Human Services guidelines haven’t been released.

Unlike a recent controversial Dayton task force recommendation to raise the gas tax to help pay for Minnesota’s aging infrastructure, Thursday’s report didn’t include a funding mechanism or specific costs.

In addition to implementing federal reforms, the report also includes recommendations to improve payment structures, analyze return on investment for public health programs and enhance medical workforce development.

Jesson said the recommendations wouldn’t appear as a neat, single bill before the Legislature and will likely take several years to implement and ramp up.

The report is the product of a year’s worth of task force and advisory group meetings on Minnesota-specific health care reform. The group’s work, unlike a separate task force convened to design the insurance exchange, included input from Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Michelle Benson appeared to be the only task force member to vote against finalizing the proposal, although the Ham Lake lawmaker later said she agreed with certain of its provisions. Rep. Steve Gottwalt, a Republican absent for the final vote, sent Jesson an emailing voicing his opposition.

“I think the most effective way for us to contain cost is for patients to be more engaged and more educated, and I didn’t see a lot of that in this plan,” Benson said after the final vote. “The overall approach that says government’s going to be more directive and more involved — and consumers less — concerns me.”

Jesson, who chaired the task force, has been integral in implementing broad reforms related to public health programs for the Dayton administration since the governor made it a priority after taking office.

“It’s about saving money,” she said, “but it’s also about keeping people healthier.”

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