Groups protest health care cuts outside Pawlenty's office

Healthcare protest, Tim Pawlenty
Patty Schmitt and Kim DeFranco (behind sign) came to protest cuts to the General Assistance Medical Care program.
MPR News Photo/Nikki Tundel

A coalition of groups offered blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar screenings outside Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office on Tuesday as part of a protest against cuts to a state health care program for the poor.

The Universal Health Care Action Network of Minnesota and other groups have set up free or low-cost clinics elsewhere before, but organizers said they came to the State Capitol to urge Pawlenty and others to see health care as a human right.

"Health care is a human right based on need. If you need care, you get care. It's an entitlement and it's a public good," said Joel Albers, a pharmacist who is part of the Universal Health Care Action Network.

Four hospitals have agreed to participate in a scaled-back version of General Assistance Medical Care, but all of them are in the Twin Cities. The program uses a coordinated care delivery system, meaning hospitals would get a lump sum of money to care for a certain number of patients.

The new GAMC program was the result of negotiations between Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled Legislature to solve the state's budget deficit. The changes took effect June 1.

Albers said the cuts will mean the program won't meet the needs of the 30,000 or so low-income adults without children who are in the program.

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"We do know that over time, when you make drastic cuts like this and people don't have access," he said, "Eventually that will lead to greater hospitalizations, greater emergency room visits and, frankly, increase morbidity and mortality."

Dr. Elizabeth Frost, a family practice physician and a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, said the groups would like to see all Minnesotans covered by a plan paid for by state government.

That way, the state could eliminate many of the administrative costs for programs like GAMC and MinnesotaCare and focus on caring for everyone, she said.

"All this stress about signing people up, finding out who gets covered, who isn't covered ... all that waste would be eliminated," Frost said. "We want to lead the nation and show that you can do government-funded health insurance and it can work and it can be very successful."