The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 26, 2013

Sheran: Unfinished business in health and welfare bill

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — The state Senate’s two-year $11.3 billion budget for health care and welfare programs, passed early Friday morning, represents both progress and unfinished business, Sen. Kathy Sheran said.

The Mankato Democrat and chair of the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee said Friday that the Legislature contended with a 10-year legacy of no revenue increases.

“We had to accept some limitations on how far we were able to fix things this year. We can’t dig ourselves out of the hole we were in in one biennium,” she said.

Democrats also operated under a self-imposed constraint from their leadership: The final health and human services bill had to have a cut of about $150 million.

The Senate approved the 587-page health and human services bill on a 36-26 vote just after midnight, after a long day that also included debates and passage of the K-12 education bill.

Sheran said she’s still hoping Democrats find a way to increase revenue so that the $150 million cut is reduced or erased.

The bill contained sweeping changes to the state’s health care program for the poor, MinnesotaCare, as well as changes to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Car Act, better known as Obamacare. Among the changes:

n State-funded health care, called MinnesotaCare, will no longer have a $10,000 cap on hospital stays. It will also pay the premiums of those earning up to 200 percent of the poverty level.

n Pregnant women and children making up to 275 percent of the poverty level, up from 150 percent, will have access to federal health care provided through a Minnesota program, called Medical Assistance.

n Assets are no longer counted against eligibility requirement for single adults earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level, up from 75 percent.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, was the lead Republican on this bill. She missed the Thursday night debate after a nasty case of food poisoning.

Nonetheless, she is familiar with the bill and said it misplaces the state’s priorities.

Though nursing home workers got a 1.7 percent raise, Rosen said those increases were paid for with cuts to nursing homes elsewhere.

She criticized the state’s move to pay the premiums of those on MinnesotaCare (to be renamed the Basic Health Plan) earning up to 200 percent of the poverty level. She said that cost about $30 million and could have been spent better elsewhere.

Rosen also said the budget spends about $160 million on compliance with Obamacare, which she called wasted spending.

She said the bill wasn’t all bad; she praised its spending on dental programs and the $14 million for mental health.

Rosen said she shared some DFLers’ dissapointment in the $150 million cut.

She said the state is raising revenue by about $3 billion, and should have found a cost-of-living increase for nursing home workers.

Democrats in the House passed their version of the bill earlier this week, and a committee will be formed with members from both the House and Senate to hash out a final bill to send to Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.