Olseen Column: Senate’s health budget prevents 100,000 families from losing health care

Thursday, April 30th, 2009 at 6:07 am

The Senate recently passed its Health and Human Services Budget Bill.  In the wake of the state’s $6.4 billion budget deficit, this bill makes over $700 million in cuts for the next biennium and nearly $1 billion in cuts for 2012-2013.  While these reductions in spending will impact the lives of many Minnesotans, I’m very glad that the Senate was able to achieve these cost-savings without individuals and children losing their health care coverage.

The Senate’s approach contrasts with the governor’s health budget, which originally proposed cutting the eligibility to MinnesotaCare.  This is a program where working families pay a monthly premium based on a sliding fee scale that provides affordable health care coverage.  The governor recommended cuts that would have resulted in over 100,000 people, including children, losing their health insurance.  He also proposed eliminating 300,000 Minnesotans’ dental coverage.

When the federal economic recovery plan was passed by Congress, it required that states not cut health care eligibility to receive the stimulus dollars.  The governor then had to revise his budget recommendations.  He recommended pushing the eligibility cuts out to 2012-2013, and eliminating hospital and emergency room coverage for 33,000 people to make up the budget difference.  The Senate’s bill does not implement these cuts.

During these difficult economic times, when many families’ budgets are already strained, I don’t think it’s the time to be taking away their health insurance.  These added costs could push monthly expenses over the edge.  I believe that those who are already struggling the most to get by in this economy shouldn’t bear the burden of the state’s budget deficit.

Additionally, the governor’s recommendation to cut hospital and emergency room coverage could have devastating effects on hospitals and insured Minnesotans.  The added expenses from uncompensated care at hospitals would cause folks’ insurance premiums to rise, along with closing the doors of many hospitals.  It’s not good for the health or economy of Minnesota to lose the care and jobs provided by these hospitals.

I’m also pleased that the Senate does not raid the Health Care Access Fund (HCAF).  The HCAF helps pay for MinnesotaCare and is financed by a 2 percent tax on all hospitals and health care providers.  The governor proposes that the tax keep being collected, but that we eliminate the HCAF and divert its funds to the General Fund to balance the budget.

I don’t think it’s inappropriate to use a tax, which is collected for a specific purpose—providing affordable health care for working families—to balance the budget.   The health care community has also expressed great concern with using these dedicated tax dollars to solve the budget deficit.

While the Senate’s bill does make substantial health care cuts that will impact many vulnerable people’s lives, I’m glad we were able to avoid removing families from their health care coverage and crippling Minnesota hospitals.  Instead, we provide a bill that balances for the next four years through reforms that will allow health care to be provided at a lower cost.

I encourage you to contact me with your questions or comments on any issue.  You may call me at 651-296-5419, send an e-mail to , or write to G-24 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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