But A Divided Legislature Produced No Real Bold Steps Forward
The Land Stewardship Project organizes for healthcare for all because we believe high-quality care is a basic need and something every person deserves, and because our current healthcare system that prioritizes corporate profits above all else is a major barrier to having thriving rural communities with more farmers on the land.
Preserving a critical source of funding for public healthcare programs in the state was a priority and a major victory for LSP and our allies during the 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature. Since 1992, stable funding for public healthcare programs and public health initiatives in Minnesota has come from a small tax paid by healthcare providers. However, unless Minnesota legislators took action this year to save it, the Health Care Access Fund would have been eliminated at the end of December, creating a hole in the state budget of roughly $700 million annually.
Minnesota’s Health Care Access Fund is used to fund public health programs and healthcare for one million Minnesotans enrolled in Medicaid and MinnesotaCare. This money has come from a 2 percent tax paid by healthcare providers, a formula which has worked successfully since 1992, when it was created with bipartisan leadership and signed into law by then Gov. Arne Carlson. But as part of a deal to end the 2011 state government shutdown, Republican leadership of the Minnesota House and Senate struck an agreement with then Gov. Mark Dayton to set a December 2019 sunset date on the provider tax.
During the past few months, LSP members testified at hearings, spoke directly to lawmakers and participated in public actions at the Capitol. We also conducted a major postcard campaign calling on legislators to support the provider tax and to undertake other concrete actions to bolster quality, affordable healthcare in rural Minnesota. We and a broad coalition of allies told powerful stories of what’s at stake: this issue is about people’s lives. Less than a week prior to the budget agreement that was reached before the special session, Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) stated that keeping the provider tax was completely off the table for his caucus.
Thanks to organizing by our members and allies, during the session we secured:
- Continuation of the provider tax at a 1.8 percent rate and elimination of the sunset date.
- Stopping the Senate language that would have cut the value of MinnesotaCare and included eliminating dental and vision care from required coverage.
- Extending the moratorium for four years that stops nonprofit insurance companies from switching to for-profit status and running away with billions of dollars of the public’s assets.
Unfortunately, the 2019 Minnesota Legislature continued “reinsurance,” which gives public money to insurance companies to pay a significant chunk of insurance claims with no real accountability. Most importantly, the Minnesota Legislature did not take bold steps forward to expand public healthcare coverage or directly help people facing unaffordable costs and poor coverage on the private market. It left on the table a buy-in plan for a public healthcare coverage option and a proposal that would have used the state’s purchasing power to lower costs for prescription drugs, advanced by the Governor and the Minnesota House.
We stopped some big steps backward on healthcare this session, but Minnesota failed to take the big steps forward that we need. Rural Minnesotans, including farmers who are in an economic crisis similar to what we saw in the 1980s, as well as other Minnesotans, are in desperate need of relief from a healthcare system that puts corporate profits above people’s well-being.
Protecting the status quo is not good enough. Minnesota is a state with abundant resources and we should be a state that invests in meeting everyone’s needs. Together we must build more power so we can achieve the kind of healthcare system that values human life, one where everyone is in and nobody is out. As the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone often said, “We all do better when we all do better.”
LSP organizers Johanna Rupprecht and Paul Sobocinski work on the organization’s Affordable Healthcare for All initiative.
LSP Healthcare Organizing Committee member Jennifer Jacquot-DeVries (right) told her healthcare story to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan at a Capitol meeting this spring