Thursday, May 29, 2003
care subsidies cut back for low-income single workers in Minnesota
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that lawmakers in
Minnesota have just cut more than $1 billion from that state's health and
human services programs. As a result, low-income single workers
without children will have to pay more for basic health care needs.
The health bill was slowed by a fight that
pitted Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration and House Republicans against
Minneapolis DFL Sen. Linda Berglin, a health policy expert who sought to
preserve as much of health insurance programs for the working poor as
doggedness forced the Republicans to back down on one of their most
high-profile proposals, to eliminate the state's health insurance program
for low income working people, called MinnesotaCare.
"I respect the
willingness to fight to the end,"
Speaker Steve Sviggum
said of Berglin. But Sviggum shook his head as he raised the notion she
could fight for the bill's last $1,000. "OK, we're cutting one billion
dollars? That's one million thousand dollars, right?"
Even after the
cuts, total state spending in the bill is nearly $7.5 billion in state
dollars, roughly a quarter of the state's total budget.
The savings come
from a wide group of trims, cuts and outright elimination of programs. The
deal makes fewer people eligible for state-subsidized child care and health
insurance, toughens welfare rules, cuts insurance for non-citizens and
reduces payments to hospitals and doctors.
But it makes
relatively few cuts in programs for the elderly. It mostly restores, for
example, senior volunteer and nutrition programs, which Pawlenty originally
proposed eliminating state money for.
advocates said the results reflect political realities.
"Kids don't vote,"
said Minh Ta, public policy director of the Children's Defense Fund of
Minnesota. "You saw where raw political power came into play."
The deal makes more
than $86 million in cuts to child care services, changes that will
immediately push about 1,200 families off state subsidies and eventually
decrease the number of people eligible by about 40 percent.
Ta said the changes
Minnesota less generous with child
care help than West Virginia and Mississippi.
But some of the
biggest savings are made by restricting low-income, childless adults from
the MinnesotaCare insurance program.
An unmarried person
earning between 75 percent and 175 percent of federal poverty guidelines, or
$6,735 to $15,715, would retain basic catastrophic coverage, designed to
make sure hospitals get reimbursed for emergency care.
Beyond that, they'd
only be able to sign up for a bare-bones insurance plan that would require
monthly premiums and new co-payments in exchange for a maximum of $2,000 per
year worth of medical services. The figure will rise in later years.
One analysis of
Pawlenty's original plan figured that 68,000 people would lose access to
health insurance by 2007. Estimates under the current deal were not
Fran Bradley, the Republicans' lead negotiator on the issue, said he didn't
feel he had cut enough from the MinnesotaCare program.
"I really think the
MinnesotaCare program was begging for a little bit better restraint," he
said. "I'm sure that we haven't done enough and it's just going to come back
and bite us."
The deal also
adopts most of Pawlenty's plans for welfare changes, though Senate Democrats
succeeded in making it a bit easier for welfare recipients to count
education as work. The current welfare system requires most recipients to
work to qualify for benefits.
And it moves ahead
with a plan to restrict people from using food stamps to purchase junk food,
although the state would have to get approval from both the federal
government and the Legislature before implementing it.
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