The big hospitals that care for the poorest Minnesotans say they have to start planning now to deal with Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s elimination of the General Assistance Medical Care program, starting next year.
The program covers childless adults who earn less than $8,000 a year. Although the governor said lawmakers have another year to find ways to change the program, the hospitals can’t wait that long to make budget decisions, says MPR news.
Dr. Michael Belzer, medical director at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minneapolis, said hospitals will set their budgets for next year long before lawmakers reconvene next session. So they have to make budget decisions with the assumption that the money won’t be restored.
HCMC is the state’s largest safety-net hospital. It receives approximately $40 million each year in income from treating GAMC patients, but the actual cost of the program cuts could be substantially higher.
Regions Hospital in St. Paul, the other major safety net hospital in the Twin Cities, also faces some tough choices due to the GAMC cut.
President and CEO Brock Nelson said Region’s will lose $35 million next year and likely millions more from unpaid medical bills. Nelson said the financial impact is devastating.
“The burden for the state’s budget problem is being placed on the backs of a few hospitals that serve the safety net patients,” Nelson said. “And we have to bear the burden for the entire, a substantial part of this deficit. And that’s what hurts because it’s inequitable.”
Advocates for health care workers said the budget consequences are so acute that even Minnesotans with health coverage will feel the effects.
“If you’re planning on going to the emergency room you better bring a good book because there’s going to be a long line,” said Rick Varco, political director for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, a division of the Service Employees International Union
Varco said, while the emergency rooms might be busier as a result of state cuts, he thinks hospitals overall could be much quieter.
“If parts of hospitals shut down or programs shut down or any sort of cut backs that the hospitals make to meet these cuts are going to affect not just our members and not just people on GAMC, but everybody who relies on the health care system,” Varco said.
And with the governor now empowered to make much deeper cuts through unallotment, other health care services are worried, too.
“There’s serious, serious fear among the health care organizations that serve low-income, vulnerable, disadvantaged populations because, given the governor’s track record on these programs, we would expect that he would target these programs for cuts,” said Michael Scandrett, a lobbyist with the Minnesota Safety Net Coalition “There would be a lot of clinics that I don’t know how they would stay in business.”
The governor hasn’t said what programs are on the chopping block, but said the growth in health and human services spending is unsustainable.