Sen. Reinert: GOP Health and Human Services Bill cuts too deep

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Senate passed the omnibus budget bill for Health and Human Services. The deep cuts in the bill are especially troubling to Senator Roger Reinert, who opposed the bill. “The proposed cuts are bad for citizens, bad for health care providers, and bad for hospitals in Duluth, as well as Minnesota.”

Sen. Reinert cited the following in opposing SF760. The bill would move thousands of Minnesotans from Medicaid and MnCare and instead give them a voucher to buy a high-premium, high deductible insurance policy on the private insurance market. Of this proposal Sen. Reinert is especially critical. “These types of policies only serve to postpone needed care, since high deductables often cause low-income individuals to avoid seeing a doctor.”

The bill’s private market voucher applies to families and children who are on Medicaid with incomes above 75% of the poverty rate ($13,898 for a family of three), and those on MinnesotaCare with incomes above 133 percent of poverty ($24,645 for a family of three), upon approval of a federal waiver. Because the vast majority would find the high-premium, high-deductible private insurance policies unaffordable, it is estimated that more than 100,000 low-income Minnesotans would lose health care coverage – shifting their health care costs to expensive emergency rooms.

The bill repeals the early Medicaid enrollment and prohibits state spending on planning and implementation of federal health care reform. The bill also eliminates optional services for Medical Assistance and Minnesota Care recipients, including speech therapy, physical therapy, eyeglasses and prosthetics. Medical Education and Research Costs (MERC) funding is also eliminated, including a $58.6 million cut to the doctor residency program.

Sen. Reinert notes the large impact of this portion of the bill to Duluth. “This directly harms students at UMD’s Medical School and Residents at Duluth Family Practice Clinic,” he says. “These are the very students that stay in Duluth and Minnesota to practice in a critical area of medicine – family practice.”

The bill ends Minnesota’s 35-year policy of nursing home rate equalization for private-pay and public-pay residents, which had protected seniors from discrimination. It also cuts $59 million from Department of Human Services grants, and $51 million from Department of Health grants, including adult mental health. “Even the Meals on Wheels program was slated for elimination until it was spared by an amendment on the Senate floor,” said Sen. Reinert.

“Many of the state programs funded through this bill receive matching funds from the federal government, meaning that a $1 cut at the state level equals a $2 cut to the program,” Senator Reinert said. “What is really unfortunate about this bill is that it actually increases health care costs — it hurts our hospitals, by adding more uncompensated care. One of the GOP senators on the Health and Human Services Committee recommended that sick people, who cannot afford to go to the doctor, seek free help at community clinics.”

Sen. Reinert concluded by saying, “This is not a plan for building on what Minnesota does well in health care. We should expect more. I look forward to continuing to work with my fellow legislators and Governor Dayton, to put forward a Health and Human Services proposal that is fiscally responsible and preserves the core pillars of our state health care system.”

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Senator Roger Reinert
Roger Reinert represents District 7, which includes St. Louis County. He is also an educator.

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