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Dayton’s medical aid ‘signing ceremony’ turns into a full-fledged political event

Gov. Mark Dayton made it official today, signing up for expanded federal medical assistance.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton signs up for expanded federal medical assistance.

What had looked like a typical gubernatorial “signing ceremony” this morning turned into a political event that left Capitol veterans buzzing.

As promised, Gov. Mark Dayton formally signed the executive order left to him by last year’s Legislature that allows Minnesota’s early enrollment in expanded federal medical assistance. Dayton’s authorization brings Minnesota into the fold of the federal health care reform law passed in March before compliance becomes mandatory in 2014.

But for the event, the new governor ended up with a standing-room-only audience of both protesters and supporters who crowded into the Governor’s Reception Room. They clogged the doorway and even spilled into the hall. Signs poked toward the gilded ceiling with slogans like “what point of NObamacare don’t you GET?”

In a surprise move, Dayton even gave up the podium for a short time to let protesters voice their views, turning the event into more of a debate than a ceremony.

“This is the people’s room,” Dayton explained of his unusual graciousness. “This is where democracy occurs.”

It quickly quieted the booing crowd, and three anti-“Obamacare” protesters eventually spoke at the podium, effectively cutting Dayton’s presentation short.

Not to be outdone, supporters ranging from health care advocates to such high-profile political figures as former Senate Majority leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, and ex-House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher cheered as Dayton signed the order.

The scene’s give-and-take prompted comments of surprise from Capitol observers like this one from Star Tribune political reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger, who tweeted: “In nearly 10 years of covering the Capitol, I’ve never seen an event quite like this one.”

Sen. Larry Pogemiller, who helped push legislative authority for the expanded aid, was on hand for the ceremony.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Sen. Larry Pogemiller, who helped push legislative authority for the expanded aid, was on hand for the ceremony.

Activists denounced the federal health care law’s constitutionality and questioned the legislation’s long-term costs. Their calls for limiting the government’s role in health care clashed with heartfelt pleas from advocates whom Dayton brought in for the ceremony.

Sarah Anderson, a clinical social worker from St. Paul, described the pain she felt as her brother Eric Halstenson couldn’t find medical assistance while struggling with rare central nervous system cancer. She praised Dayton’s decision.

Her pain was met with understanding, but also with a different sort of solution: God and the church.

“Let’s not trust in a government system, let’s trust the spirit of God in your hearts,” said one protester who didn’t identify himself.

Dayton’s action today is expected to attract roughly $1.2 billion in federal dollars. Following a state match for the next three years, the federal government is expected to start funding the entire program in 2014.

Protesters -- and supporters -- crowded the room for the signing.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Protesters — and supporters — crowded the room for the signing.

Under the order, single, childless adults at 75 percent of the poverty line (earning about $8,000 yearly) enrolled in GAMC and MinnesotaCare will be covered by Medicaid when the switch is made.

The opportunity for an executive order came as a compromise with Gov. Tim Pawlenty during the final moments of budget negotiations last session. Although Pawlenty declined to sign the order in July, the Legislature gave the next governor till mid-January to sign up for the federal aid.

Including the compromise in the legislation infuriated some on both sides of the line, said Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth. Democrats viewed the move as capitulation to Pawlenty’s cuts, while the Republicans viewed it as a gamble on the state’s next governor.

After Pawlenty effectively “kneecapped” the state’s General Assistance Medical Care program last session, in the words of political commentator Larry Jacobs, a portion of the poorest Minnesotans it covered were dropped. They were forced into to a different state program designed to provide insurance for low income – but still employed – state residents called MinnesotaCare

Because of the expansion, Democrats project that MinnesotaCare’s funding source, previously expected to run a deficit in 2011, will remain solvent until 2013.

Minnesota is only the second state to enroll in the early Medicaid opt-in, said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. It was one of roughly 10 states eligible for the option.

Supporters say the move could save up to 20,000 health care jobs in Minnesota because federal funds will give more compensation to providers. They also expect it to expand access for the poor while saving the state a net $32 million into 2013.

Pawlenty originally opposed the early enrollment because he said it would cost the state $430 million over three years. He didn’t account for savings in the Health Care Access fund, which props up MinnesotaCare.

Dayton signed the order today, but it could take up to nine months to begin working, he said.

“I think there will be some people in human services being fired if they can’t get it done in less time than that,” Huntley said.

Although the first $188 million in state payments for the program are built into the current budget, a projected $6.2 billion deficit for the next biennium could make it difficult to fund the state match.

As Dayton signed the new executive order, he rescinded a Pawlenty mandate from August preventing state agencies from soliciting grants under the federal health care reform law.

Afterward, Senate Republicans at a news conference questioned the constitutionality of a previous Legislature giving a future governor the power to spend “unilaterally.”

“The power of the purse belongs to the Legislature — not last year’s Legislature, but this year’s Legislature,” said. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

Limmer wrote a letter to Dayton last week asking the governor to “pause” before signing the order.  He cautioned that the bill’s language authorizing the opt-in wasn’t scrutinized by either house’s judiciary committees.

Senate and House Republicans will not file a lawsuit attempting to repeal the order, Limmer said, although he was concerned a GOP-controlled Congress that’s pledged not to fund the health care bill could saddle Minnesota with further unfunded federal mandates.

There will be Republican initiatives like federal waivers to address the order’s “policy implications” this session, he said.

James Nord, a student at the University of Minnesota, is a MinnPost intern.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 01/05/2011 - 02:21 pm.

    Guess what Senator Limmer, Pawlenty was just playing chicken. He knew he couldn’t get the Legislature to agree to a total ban, so he compromised hoping the new Governor would agree with him.

    You folks talk about making Minnesota more “business friendly”, that government gets in the way of businesses doing their business. Well, this move by Pawlenty certainly did that. By forbiding agencies to solicit grants, it forced businesses, i.e. Mayo (and others?) to do the government’s work and to solicit grants on their own. So Mayo gets a pile of money for its patients and HCMC goes begging when they’re the ones who are more directly affected by the health care policies put in place by Pawlenty? Not exactly a way to care for ALL Minnesotans. Or is that what it’s going to be from now on, every man, woman and child will have to individually fight for their scrap of the state pie?

    I thought that commonwealth was a part of what this state was all about. Apparently not.

    And as for which Legislature gets to decide what, you will be living this year with the budget decided by the last Legislature. You don’t get to come in on day one and re-write it. That’s a new one on me.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/05/2011 - 04:06 pm.

    “Dayton’s action today is expected to attract roughly $1.2 billion in federal funding. Following a state match, the federal government is expected to start funding the entire program in 2014.”

    This entire issue is moot. The U.S. congress has not and will not authorize those funds to be spent.

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 01/05/2011 - 04:55 pm.

    Riffing off Sheila’s point about being business-friendly, one of the biggest obstacles to starting a business is health insurance. So many people find it unaffordable or unavailable at any price, that they can’t give up their employer-paid insurance and strike out on their own, and that’s just insuring the owner. Try affording insurance for employees, which is either very expensive for a small business or it means being unable to compete with larger employers. It’s like the health insurance market was designed to prevent business start-ups.

    Making insurance available and affordable to everybody might be the best stimulus for small businesses and new businesses we’ve ever had.

  4. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 01/05/2011 - 08:26 pm.

    Governor Dayton is a class act. He invited the protesters to come up to the microphone and express their objections.

  5. Submitted by William Pappas on 01/06/2011 - 05:50 am.

    That really was a brilliant impulsive act by Dayton. The protesters themselves became, by their inarticulate and quasi religious remarks, very good arguments for health reform. It is also a fact that state and federal insurance reform will save money, not cost us billions as republicans have portrayed it. Making health care available to 50 million poor and unemployed is a benevolent and Christian act. Protesters invoking religion to deny health access to so many people is ironic indeed.

  6. Submitted by Kathy Coulter on 01/06/2011 - 07:43 am.

    All those dollar amounts in the article…funding this with that…spending fictional money in order to save fictional money…playing re-distributive games with fingers crossed…letting government, with its highly successful record of solving problems, have an increasing role in “managing” its citizens’ health care needs.


    What could go wrong?!

  7. Submitted by donald maxwell on 01/06/2011 - 12:40 pm.

    I could agree with Kathy Coulter that the U.S. government has been pretty bad at solving some problems, including the wars that go on continuously, and Katrina, and the help to Haiti, and lots more.

    But as a senior citizen who sees how Social Security and Medicare work, I have to disagree with an assumption that the government can’t get anything right. Those two programs work, have funded themselves throughout their history, and will continue to do so indefinitely if adjusted by people who want them to work and not by those who want to destroy them.

    There is a lot of fiction floating around that is being taken as truth by lots of our fellow citizens. The protestors at Dayton’s signing are not bad people, but they have been exposed to a lot of hate speech and untruth. It is not surprising that they have a lot of facts missing from their agenda.

    People will naturally become more confrontational when they feel nobody is listening. Mark Dayton has helped move us from noisy confrontation toward more exchange of ideas and facts. It’s a small but important step.

  8. Submitted by Kathy Coulter on 01/06/2011 - 04:36 pm.

    Hello, donald,

    “There is a lot of fiction floating around that is being taken as truth by lots of our fellow citizens.”

    I agree. Like, for instance, the fiction that Social Security and Medicare are doing just fine, thank you. I suppose if we don’t really love our children and grandchildren, we can be fine with this fiction though, right?

    If you’d like me to suggest some fun reading material to bring you more up to speed on how close to the abyss we are, please let me know.

  9. Submitted by Lynda Friedman on 01/06/2011 - 05:37 pm.

    I am always surprised by those who claim funding social programs will burden our children and grandchildren with debt. Investing in healthy citizens, keeping people employed and educated and our environment viable is our responsibility to our children and grandchildren. Engaging in unfunded wars of choice, giving unaffordable tax exemptions to the super rich and large corporations places a burden on future generations. Where is the outrage from the fiscal conservatives about those choices?

  10. Submitted by Kathy Coulter on 01/08/2011 - 07:41 am.

    Hello, Lydia,

    Have you heard of the Tea Parties? These grass-roots protests against government overreach and excess did not spring full-blown into life from nothing, simply because of the election of Barack Obama, however convenient that accusation might be for the left. Seeds of Tea Party anger were sown during the Bush administration. You wouldn’t realize that, of course, because liberals are, in general, willfully ignorant when it comes to actually knowing anything about conservative thought, ideas, and actions.

    Had you been paying attention to national conservative voices speaking between 2002-08 regarding No Child Left Behind, the prescription drug bill, bloated agriculture and transportation bills, the explosion in the cost and size of government bureaucracy, etc. you would have seen that attention WAS being paid and frustration was building at the performance of a supposed fiscally conservative administration.

    Had you actually been reading and learning about the 75-year path to insolvency engineered by both parties you wouldn’t fall prey to silly talking points like conservatively “unfunded wars and unaffordable tax exemptions” being the root cause of our present problems. I’ll bet you think the housing collapse was all the fault of “greedy Wall Street.“ Try educating yourself, please.

    Conservatives, you see, finally “got it”. It’s the corruption and the spending and the entitlement. It’s an out-of-control political elite who only serve themselves by shackling us to government “programs” and then threaten us with their demise if we don’t keep them in office. Pretty good scam, huh?

    Conservatives are now working to remove from power their “representatives” who have done nothing more than go along with government corruption, growth, and spending. (see elections 2010…we made some progress) We will continue, I hope, to elect people who recognize the constitutional limits of government. Who do not see private income as their own personal re-distributive piggy bank.

    I’m wondering when liberals will catch on, face reality, and start holding THEIR elected officials accountable for the mess, as well. We’re about out of time and we’re definitely out of money. In the shell game that is government, there is no longer a pea under any of the cups.

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