A Republican proposal to retain solvency in a key state health care fund is making headway at the Capitol, despite the tumultuous ride reform has taken this session.
The fund — which supports MinnesotaCare, a state-sponsored program for about 140,000 “working poor” residents — is set to run a $150 million deficit by 2013. Gov. Mark Dayton extended the solvency of the state account past 2011 when he signed the early Medicaid opt-in as his first act as governor and attracted more than $1 billion in federal funding.
But with the state’s $6.2 billion projected deficit, Republican opposition to the opt-in (with legislation to back it up) and proposed cuts to MinnesotaCare in Dayton’s budget, the future is bleak.
“It’s kind of like a track headed toward a brick wall,” said Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, of MinnesotaCare’s precarious funding.
To keep the program accessible, Gottwalt has proposed a complete overhaul of the “one size fits all” state system. His bill would effectively dissolve MinnesotaCare and instead use the Health Care Access Fund, which supports it, to provide contributions for individuals now using the program to find individual private health care plans.
“This is about maintaining eligibility for low-income Minnesotans,” Gottwalt said. “But in addition to that, it does save money.”
In fact, the move could save the state $112 million biennially, according to a House fiscal note. The monthly state contribution to each individual would be based on age: $123 for someone under 21 to $357 for those more than 60 years old; it would serve childless individuals eligible for the program beginning at 133 percent of the federal poverty line.
Gottwalt today touted the benefits of privatizing MinnesotaCare in front of a House Health and Human Services committee. In addition to removing limits in the amount of care than can be received, his legislation also puts choice in the hands of each person, he said.
“It’s not Cadillac, but it’s really basic coverage,” he said after the meeting.
Among those testifying on the bill was Sue Abderholden, executive director of a Minnesota mental health organization. She warned that high deductible programs aren’t always the best method of keeping costs down and expressed concern about the amount of focus the bill puts on mental health.
The measure passed through the House committee with little discussion, but regardless of its status in the Legislature, it will have to gain Dayton’s approval. Administration spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said in an e-mail that Gottwalt had met with the governor’s staff, who referred him to DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.
“I understand she is interested in discussing the proposal, but has not endorsed it,” Tinucci wrote.