Apparently, what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.
That little truth came to light during Tuesday’s Senate debate over health care for the poor.
Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, introduced one of the GOP’s plans for cutting Human Services costs by taking about 15,000 single adults out of MinnesotaCare and giving them vouchers so they can buy their own health insurance.
Hann sang the praises of the bill: It will save the state money. It will give the poor more choices. It will improve the health care of the poor. It will get government out of health care. It’s the American way!
Then, Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, rose to speak. She offered a simple amendment to this GOP plan.
She said her amendment would require legislators to test the plan for two years, before the poor were forced into it.
“I hear what a wonderful deal this is for people,” Goodwin said. “We can determine if this plan is working as it should.”
Amendment greeted with silence
For a moment, you could have heard a pin drop in the Senate chambers. What? Us on this plan?
A rookie senator, Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, stood, clearly offended by Goodwin’s amendment.
“We’re citizen legislators,” she said, adding that she’d waived her right to receive the health insurance benefits that most legislators receive.
After proclaiming her own goodness, she attacked the Goodwin amendment.
“Political tomfoolery,” Hoffman said.
Again there was silence in the Senate. It had been years since anyone had heard the expression “tomfoolery.”
And later, Goodwin said that “tomfoolery” had never been applied to her before.
“People usually say I’m the sort of person who says things because I mean them,” Goodwin said.
Back up for a moment and look at the plan Hann sings the praises of but — as it turned out — wouldn’t want for himself.
Single working adults who have incomes of between 133 percent and 250 percent of poverty-level would no longer be covered by MinnesotaCare, the publicly subsidized health insurance program for the working poor that’s been in existence since 1990. Under MinnesotaCare, low-income working people pay premiums on a sliding scale based on ability to pay.
The Republican plan would force those earning between $14,400 and $30,000 off MinnesotaCare and into the “free” market. With the help of state vouchers, they could select the health insurance they want for themselves.
Hann says that by “allowing” these people to go into the free market, the state would save $100 million per biennium.
Remember all that talk about “waivers” the GOP wants to receive from the federal government for insuring the poor? That figures into this bill.
Waivers aren’t needed to get single adults into the voucher program.
But the big savings — another $600 million a biennium, according to Hann — could come if the feds would allow Minnesota to use vouchers for families who receive state-assisted health care through programs such as MinnesotaCare.
As it is, the feds have a number of requirements — “burdensome mandates,” according to Hann — if states want federal financial support of state health care programs. The voucher system the state GOP is pushing apparently falls short in matching federal requirements for what health programs should offer.
In other words, the waivers Republican legislators seek aren’t gonna happen.
And there’s good reason for that, according to DFLers.
The voucher system that Hann and other GOPers speak so highly of would prove a disaster for the poor.
DFLers denounce voucher plan
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said the voucher plan would take away 60 percent of the benefits the poor currently get through MinnesotaCare.
Other DFLers got up to denounce the plan during Tuesday’s debate.
Sen. Linda Higgins, for example, said, “Do people know what 133 percent of poverty really is? That’s $14,484 for a single adult.”
High costs of purchasing even the worst of insurance programs would “not be workable,” she said. Those private insurance programs would have $3,000 deductibles, high co-pays and other costs that would make them unaffordable for the poor.
Republicans countered by saying that the current Human Services budget is “unsustainable” and that “the free market” would do a better job than the government in caring for the poor.
Hann even held up a letter. “The Chamber of Commerce supports this [voucher] bill,” he said, excitedly.
Citing the Chamber seldom wins over DFLers.
But citing the needs of the poor hardly wins over Republicans.
So the debate played out with nobody listening to anybody until Goodwin came up with her amendment.
“Put the legislators on this plan for the first two years,” she said.
Whoa. All the little conversations that usually go on during debates stopped.
Hann was taken by surprise.
“I’m just seeing this for the first time,” he said. “I would oppose this amendment. We’re talking about a plan for low-income Minnesotans. I’m not sure how this applies.”
“I think it’s pretty simple,” responded Goodwin. “Let’s try it on ourselves first.”
Most DFLers weren’t even amused by Goodwin’s simple what’s-good-for-the-goose idea.
Berglin, who fights so hard for the poor, said the Goodwin amendment was as unacceptable as the GOP voucher plan in general.
First, Berglin turned to Hoffman, who had so proudly proclaimed she doesn’t take the insurance benefits offered to legislators.
“We come from different circumstances,” Berglin said. “Some don’t need the insurance the job provides. Some do. I rise to tell you I can’t afford this kind of plan for my family. I won’t support your amendment, Sen. Goodwin.”
Little support for Goodwin’s amendments
Not many did. The amendment was voted down, 56-9.
Goodwin didn’t seem surprised.
“You didn’t like that one — maybe you’ll like this one,” Goodwin said.
She offered an amendment that would keep the GOP bill as written, but would add legislators to those being sent out with vouchers.
“We’re cutting health care for them,” Goodwin said. “We should be willing to do it to ourselves, too,” she said.
Hann rose again.
“I would oppose,” he said.
Most did. With little discussion — and no suggestions of “tomfoolery” — Goodwin’s second amendment was defeated, 50-15.
Ultimately, the GOP bill did pass on a party-line vote, 37-28, but it will be vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
And for at least the rest of this session, Goodwin likely will be known as “Sen. Tomfoolery,” which seems to amuse her.
“I’ve just never been called that until today,” she said.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.