Minn. House health panel gets an earful from targets of cuts

Rep. Abeler
Rep. Jim Abeler R-Anoka, talks with reporters as Rep. Kurt Zellers House Minority Leader R-Maple Grove, right, looks on during a news conference at the State Capitol in a file photo from Saturday, May 15, 2010.
Craig Lassig/AP

Cindy Johnson has spent much of the last three decades taking care of her daughter, Jenna, who was born with cerebral palsy. She lives in Woodbury, where Jenna needs a wheelchair and constant care.

A provision of state law gave Jenna's family wide latitude of how to care for her, and now her mom fears that's going to be taken away.

On Wednesday, Johnson was among nearly 100 people who say they would be hurt by a House bill that would cut $1.6 billion from the Health and Human Services budget.

"I'm just tired of the constant attack on people with disabilities and the elderly to balance the state budget," Johnson told legislators. "It's year after year after year, and I'm just getting tired of it.

"My daughter already had 5 percent over the years 2008 and 2009, and we're still not able to make ends meet from those cuts," she said. "My mouth dropped open, and I couldn't even think."

Like Johnson, many of those who spoke to legislators on the House Health and Human Services committee, spoke of hardships.

Kurt Rutzen, of Minneapolis, also suffers from cerebral palsy. He told the committee about a steep hike in medication costs for low-income Minnesotans dependent on state care. He said his checkbook already is in the red.

"This morning, I'm negative again, $65. And I try real hard to manage my money, but it's crazy," Rutzen said. "I'm here to ask you guys not to raise the co-pay."

He said prescription co-pays could rise from $3 to $20 under the House plan.

Others asked the committee to reconsider financial help for medical residents to keep doctors in Minnesota and asked them not to cut child care subsidies. They warned that trimming 7,000 people from Minnesota Care wouldn't save money.

Mary Krinkie, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Hospital Association, said shifting some poor families from traditional health insurance to a high-deductible, defined contribution plan they had to manage themselves simply isn't practical.

"We believe that with a $12,000 deductible, that no one will participate in that program," Krinkie said. "It's simply too high."

She said the burden for their care would simply fall on hospitals and other Minnesotans anyway.

Concerns expressed weren't just about money. Some objected to a provision that banned prenatal care for non-citizens, to the single day of testimony the bill is getting and new restrictions on cash welfare benefits.

Committee chair Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said many of the provisions were meant only to provoke discussion, and that he expected changes.

"You bring a proposal forward that ... seems good with one group of people, then you understand how it impacts people," he said.

But Abeler said he intended to get the 350-page bill out of his committee on Thursday, off to its next stop in the House Ways and Means committee.