On Air
Open In Popup
MPR News

Minn. official says Medicaid switch won't be quick

Share story

An order to expand the Medicaid health program for the poor is expected to be one of Gov.-elect Mark Dayton's first official acts next month. But a state human services official said Tuesday that it could take until October for the program to begin operating.

      State Medicaid director Brian Osberg told a legislative panel Tuesday that the state Human Services Department and counties will need nine months to design the expansion, convert computer systems, train staff and implement the program. He said state health care providers won't be eligible for an infusion of federal cash until the program is up and running.

      "To do this correctly, to do what's in front of us, this is what it's going to take," Osberg told a handful of Democrats on a House health care committee.

      Minnesota is one of the states allowed to get federal aid under the health care overhaul to pay for more generous Medicaid coverage for poor adults who aren't parents. Departing Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty opted against the Medicaid expansion as he moved to block the state's participation in the health care law. Dayton, a Democrat, was the only major gubernatorial candidate who promised to implement the law.

      Dayton has said he will sign the paperwork for the Medicaid expansion on the day he is inaugurated, Jan. 3, if it's ready.

      The move would bring $1.4 billion in federal dollars for health care providers. George Hoffman, head of reports and forecasts for the Human Services Department, said the state will come out roughly even after putting up almost $500 million in matching money but saving about that much on two other health care programs.

      Osberg's comments about the lead time for implementation drew an angry reaction from Democrats. They count a state law allowing the new governor to sign up for the Medicaid expansion as one of their main legislative successes this year.

      "Basically you've blown a year. That's a lot of money," said Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth, who will relinquish his gavel as chairman of the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division when Republicans take over the Legislature in January.

      Osberg said the human services agency has no authority to start implementing the Medicaid expansion until the governor orders it.

      Dayton became governor-elect last week when Republican Tom Emmer conceded after a five-week recount. The incoming governor is expected to name a new human services commissioner as he builds his Cabinet, replacing Pawlenty appointee Cal Ludeman as head of the state's largest agency by employees and second-largest by general fund spending.

             (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)