Budget negotiations focus on health care divide

Health care spending remains a big hurdle for Minnesota lawmakers as they begin the final week of the 2015 legislative session.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats have a $1.4 billion gap to close in their competing budget bills for health and human services.

The big disagreements are over two House GOP plans. One would eliminate MinnesotaCare and move its low-income participants onto MNsure. The other is to save $300 million by cracking down on ineligible participants in public programs.

Legislative leaders met Sunday afternoon and evening with two of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioners, as well as Legislative Auditor James Nobles, to discuss the differences.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has repeatedly said the House Republican proposal to eliminate MinnesotaCare is a non-starter.

Bakk said the meeting was a fact-finding session for the HHS committee chairs.

“Well, my hope is both the chairs will get more comfortable with the whole conversation,” Bakk said. “As the conference committee continues to meet, they’ll have more information that they both heard from the same so source going forward this week.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, stressed that a long-term plan is needed for MinnesotaCare, because its provider tax funding source is set to expire in 2019.

“If it is going to go away, if not immediately, which we understand that may not be what they want to do, then we at least need to talk about phasing them out or coming up with a plan to plan to phase them out onto another program,” Daudt said.

Daudt said he remains optimistic about an agreement coming together to adjourn the session on time.

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