Farmers, Nurses, Care Providers & People of Faith Question Major Cuts in Time of Budget Surplus
SAINT PAUL, Minn. — State lawmakers are pushing public healthcare cuts that could affect more than a million Minnesotans. The Legislature has less than three weeks to agree on a state budget with Governor Mark Dayton, but the Republican legislative leadership differs greatly on how to use the budget surplus.
The Legislature is looking to cut funding for human services by $500 million, which includes funding for hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities and community resources. The budget also counts on reductions from new audits to remove Minnesotans from Medical Assistance coverage.
The changes could pose serious consequences for the 1.2 million Minnesotans who are enrolled in the state’s public health plans. Cuts to Medical Assistance target low-income families with children, rather than older adults and people with disabilities who also qualify for the program.
“All these ‘reforms’ mean people are going to die needlessly,” said Rose Roach, Executive Director of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “How do we negotiate or compromise on who lives and who dies? Nurses strongly oppose these disastrous cuts to life-affirming and lifesaving programs.”
Lawmakers also included a measure to end MNsure, the state’s exchange for individuals buying health insurance. It would move Minnesota to the federal insurance marketplace. According to advocates, the change would have serious consequences for working families.
“MinnesotaCare is not compatible with the federal exchange,” said David Zaffrann, Health Care Program Manager at TakeAction Minnesota. “There may be no way for the 100,000 people enrolled in MinnesotaCare to sign up for the program. This is a major concern, and there’s little public knowledge about what it would mean to shut down MNsure.”
State officials have also raised concerns about these methods for reducing spending. In a letter to key legislators, Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said, “Achieving savings in human services programs requires specificity: who is losing eligibility, whose rates are being reduced or what benefits are being eliminated. There are no shortcuts or painless ways to make these reductions.”
The latest proposal offered by the House and Senate counts on a variety of cost-savings tricks. It removes inflation from budget forecasts, delays payments to insurance companies, and bets on savings from new bidding and payment systems.
Rural hospitals and clinics also expressed concern in committee hearings. State healthcare for people with disabilities, older adults, and low- to moderate-income households, along with Medicare, make up a substantial portion of care in Greater Minnesota.
Lawmakers have already passed major—and controversial—healthcare bills this session.
In January, the Legislature approved $300 million to help lower premiums for people who bought individual health insurance policies in 2017. It also passed a bill to allow Minnesota’s nonprofit health insurance companies to convert to for-profit entities. In April, the legislature approved “reinsurance,” a $540 million subsidy to health insurance companies over the next two years in an attempt to stabilize the individual market.
The regular legislative session adjourns May 22. If lawmakers do not work out an agreement on the budget by then, a special session could be required to finish the job.
“Healthcare is a big concern for every family,” said Mark Schultz, executive director of the Land Stewardship Project. “MinnesotaCare is a lifeline for many farmers, small businesses, and working people in Greater Minnesota. Our members are paying close attention these final weeks of the session.”
1. Letter from Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Emily Piper to legislators.
2. County-level data on the numbers of Minnesotans who could be affected by public health insurance program cuts can be found on the DHS website at https://mn.gov/dhs/aca-repeal. The map at this site shows the number of adults ages 18-64 who have gained coverage through the expansion of Medicaid, and does not include children, people with disabilities, or the elderly. This gives a local snapshot of how many families could be affected by cuts.