Health care cuts will negatively affect local hospitals

Minnesota lawmakers passed all budget bills to Governor Mark Dayton last week, even though there still was no agreement between the Governor and lawmakers as to how to solve the $5 billion budget deficit. Republican leaders in the House and Senate forged ahead with their all-cuts budget, which makes deep spending cuts that will have significant negative effects on all Minnesotans.

In contrast, Gov. Dayton offered Republican leaders in the House and Senate a compromise solution that could have avoided some of the cuts passed in the bills last week. He offered to cut his proposal to raise revenue in half and meet Republicans half-way on the deeper spending cuts they’ve been pushing for. It’s a reasonable solution that is the very definition of compromise: Half way between the two positions. It’s unfortunate that it was rejected so quickly.

Instead of agreeing to a compromise, the leadership passed budget bills that will have a very negative impact on our state’s ability to function. One of the most concerning pieces of the budget is included in the health care funding bill. The $1.2 billion cut to health care services will be felt by hospitals across the state, particularly in rural Minnesota as they have to cut staff and reduce services.

The Minnesota Hospital Association estimates between 13,000 and 18,000 hospital jobs will be lost because of the budget cuts passed this week. Hospitals and other health care facilities provide good-paying, stable jobs in every Minnesota community. In addition, the need for quality health care employees is growing as our population ages. To instill funding cuts that will decimate these services and our health care facilities makes no sense – especially when a reasonable compromise could be reached to avoid such devastation.

The health care budget also makes a drastic change to MinnesotaCare, the affordable health care program that is available to low-income, working Minnesotans. It’s an important tool in our state’s health care structure because for a lower rate, families are able to access preventative health care services that cost the state far less than emergency care. The Republicans’ health care budget changes MinnesotaCare into a voucher program, eliminating coverage for 140,000 Minnesotans and making it far less accessible to those who still would qualify for the program. As a result, more of these residents will be forced to wait until the last minute to receive care for health problems, probably in emergency rooms. That increases uncompensated costs for hospitals, which are passed onto the rest of us in the form of higher insurance premiums.

The Republicans’ tax bill, which also was sent to the Governor without an agreement, will raise property taxes by more than $1 billion over the next four years across Minnesota according to non-partisan financial experts. That’s on top of the $3 billion property tax increase we’ve all experienced over the last eight years. Governor Dayton’s tax plan holds down property taxes for every individual and business in Minnesota.

The state is facing a $5 billion deficit and everyone understands difficult spending cuts need to be made at the end of the day, but the budget bills that passed this week are not good for the future of Minnesota. Governor Dayton has been clear that he’s willing to talk about where to make responsible reductions in these areas. He’s also been clear that new revenue would be necessary to make sure these cuts don’t go so deep as to harm families and communities beyond the point of repair. It’s very unfortunate that so far, Republican leaders are refusing his offers just to protect the top 2 percent of income-earners from paying one dime in new taxes.

By midnight on May 23, the legislative session either will have reached compromise, or we will face the prospects of a special session to avoid the government shut-down that would occur on July 1 if no budget is agreed to. You may keep up with legislative activity at www.senate.mn.

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Senator Rod Skoe
Rod Skoe represents District 2, which includes all or portions of Becker, Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Otter Tail and Wadena counties in the northwestern part of the state. He chairs the Tax Committee.

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