Dayton: Health plan to donate $30M to help deficit

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A nonprofit health plan covering patients on government programs announced a $30 million donation to the state of Minnesota on Wednesday as a top Republican lawmaker outlined plans to tighten health and welfare spending.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton announced the donation from UCare, which provides coverage for patients on state and federal programs including MinnesotaCare, Medicaid and Medicare. He said the money will go to the state treasury in July to help with a $5 billion deficit.

Dayton's administration also is using the donation as leverage to ask other Minnesota health plans for voluntary contributions.

"This is the sort of action nonprofits should be taking," Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said, adding that she is contacting health plans to ask for donations based on their earnings and reserves.

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UCare President and CEO Nancy Feldman said her organization made the donation because its reserves had grown above a target level. "It's just the right thing to do," she said.

Meanwhile, House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, began outlining a budget that aims to spend $1.3 billion less on health and human services programs than Dayton wants. Abeler presented pieces of a bill at a hearing, with plans to release a full bill next week.

He wants to manage disability programs more aggressively to control costs and force the costliest health care providers to be more efficient by giving health plans less to spend on those providers. Abeler said his budget doesn't include cuts to nursing homes, mental health services or medical provider reimbursement rates, but it would make counties pay a larger share of the costs for committing sex offenders to a costly state treatment program after prison.

Democratic reaction was muted during the hearing because many of the details remain to be filled in.

Health and welfare programs are one of the biggest areas of Minnesota's budget.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)