The Minnesota Department of Human Services said today that low-income Minnesotans who are scheduled to lose taxpayer funded health insurance in March will be rolled into a different state program.
The department is making the move because of cuts to a program that provides health coverage to the 36,000. Democrats in the Legislature say the Pawlenty Administration is trying to solve a problem it created.
In May, Gov. Pawlenty line-item vetoed funding for General Assistance Medical Care, a program that provides health coverage to the poorest Minnesotans. Since then, state lawmakers have been scrambling to make sure those enrolled in GAMC don't go entirely without health coverage when the funding dries up in March.
A deal hasn't been reached, and Department of Human Services Commissioner Cal Ludeman said he had to act to make sure no one loses coverage.
"The people who are currently enrolled in GAMC were going to lose coverage by March 1," Ludeman said. "So by taking this administrative action, I can see that this does not happen."
Ludeman said about 90 percent of those currently enrolled in GAMC will be eligible for the change. He said the remaining 10 percent are already transitioning to MinnesotaCare or haven't renewed their eligibility.
He also said counties will pay the health care premiums for the new enrollees for up to six months - a price tag of $1.8 million. At the end of the six months, individuals will be expected to renew their eligibility and pay their own premiums. Democrats in the Legislature say they're disappointed with the move.
"It doesn't represent a solution for the people enrolled in General Assistance Medical Care," said DFL Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul.
Murphy said she was surprised by the administration's announcement and said Pawlenty is shifting responsibility on the issue. Murphy said MinnesotaCare can't replace everything that Pawlenty cut, and health care costs in the state will go up as a result.
"We know that the population currently served in General Assistance Medical Care is very sick and they have a high rate of hospitalization," she said. "The hospitals will bear that cost. Property taxpayers will bear that cost and the cost of uncompensated care will be shifted from the hospitals to premium payers."
Murphy said she would have preferred to see Pawlenty negotiate with the Legislature to find a solution. Commissioner Ludeman said today's move doesn't preclude some sort of compromise in the future.
Others are worried that adding more people to MinnesotaCare will drain the fund that pays for MinnesotaCare. DFL Sen. Linda Berglin said the program is set to run out of money in 2010 - which would force people from their coverage.
"When the program is out of money, then they not only have to disenroll the GAMC population that they enrolled but they have to also disenroll the MinnesotaCare population for people without children," Berglin said.
Berglin also said she thinks the Department of Human Services is exceeding its authority because the Legislature has not approved the change. Ludeman and a spokesman for the governor say they believe the change is within the law.