Budget falls short on health care goals

Pediatrician
The new health and human services bill expands insurance coverage for about 30,000 children in Minnesota.
File Photo: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

The governor is far from thrilled with the human services bill. He complains that it doesn't make significant progress toward reforming the health care system. The legislation doesn't do enough, he says, to contain rising costs and improve the quality of care that people receive. It also spends $185 million more than he recommended.

"It is a very large increase, in my view a mis-prioritization of the relative growth in the budget," said Pawlenty. "Some growth would have been good in this area, but more of it should have been directed into education, in my opinion. That being said, there are good things in this health and human services budget."

For example, the governor says he's pleased the bill overhauls the state's beleaguered mental health system. The bill also modernizes records and billing practices. And, it extends state-sponsored health coverage to an additional 30,000 Minnesota children, and more than 20,000 adults.

"I would label this session not only a disaster, I think it is something that if I were a legislator, I could not be proud of what was put together here."

Expanding insurance coverage was a big priority for many lawmakers at the Capitol this session. Some DFL leaders wanted to cover all of the state's 70,000 uninsured kids. But in the end, that proposal was whittled down by more than half.

"In a way, this wasn't a year for the vision for health care, but we did make some progress," said Jim Koppel, director of Children's Defense Fund Minnesota.

While he's pleased more children will have insurance, Koppel thinks lawmakers missed an opportunity to make sweeping changes in the health care system by covering all kids.

"What disheartens me is we had a model for beginning to address the issue, and we started with kids," said Koppel. "If we had implemented this model that we put forward in the Children's Health Security Act, that it would have worked, it would have served as a model of how potentially to do more. So we're disappointed we didn't take the first step."

The nursing home industry is also disappointed with the health and human services bill. Nursing homes had asked for significant increases in payments to nursing homes to make up for several years of rate freezes.

Rick Carter is president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, a trade association representing about half the state's long-term care facilities and assisted living centers.

Carter says his members desperately needed a 7 percent increase for 2007 and a 6 percent increase in 2008, just to break even. Lawmakers gave them 2 percent.

"I would label this session not only a disaster, I think it is something that if I were a legislator, I could not in any imagination be proud of what was put together here," said Carter.

Carter says the rate increase that passed is so minimal many long-term care facilities may have to forego health insurance for their employees.

"We will see a lot of people left without health insurance because of what they did," said Carter. "In fact, a lot of people might end up qualifying for MinnesotaCare as a result of this, which I find incredibly ironic."

Carter predicts many nursing homes will close as a result of the human services bill, though he wouldn't say how many that might be. He hopes lawmakers will revisit their funding decision during a special session. But it doesn't appear likely that one will be called.

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