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Budget Reverses Health Care Gains

May 26, 2011 By Julie K. Schnell, Minnesota 2020 Contributor

Time and time again, Minnesota has been highlighted as a national model for healthcare. We focused on quality before it was in vogue. We’ve pushed the envelope to coordinate care across the medical spectrum. We were in the vanguard of electronic medical recordkeeping. Most importantly, we have quality caregivers that are second to none.

But the last few legislative sessions have left me wondering: how long can we uphold this tradition of quality patient care given the enormous obstacles that have been placed in front of us by politicians?

This year, the Republican leadership of the legislature passed a Health and Human Services budget that will slash $1.8 billion in funding for quality care. In the rhetorical mess that always accompanies the end of the legislative session, the numbers thrown around can make the average Minnesotan’s eyes glaze over, but balancing the budget is not merely a problem of arithmetic.

How we choose to balance the budget reflects our values as a state, and the values espoused by the Republican HHS budget are woefully out of sync with the Minnesota values of fairness and respect for our neighbors. The Republican-controlled legislature chose to sacrifice quality care and independence for thousands of disabled and elderly Minnesotans in order to shield the richest two percent of Minnesotans from paying a little more in income taxes. The numbers don’t lie. Under the bill they chose to pass:

  • Hospitals will lose $931.2 million of funding for quality care.
  • The Minnesota Department of Human Services estimates that 138,000 individuals could lose their health insurance coverage.
  • Thousands of Minnesota’s elderly and disabled will lose access to home and community-based services or be forced into more costly institutional care.
  • Early Medicaid expansion is repealed, costing nearly 20,000 healthcare jobs in Minnesota during a tenuous economic recovery for working people.

These cuts further the Republican legislature’s trend of letting radical ideology trump quality outcomes and proactive reform. Earlier this year, Governor Dayton took action to expand Medicaid to provide access to cost-saving primary care, but the Republican legislature chose to repeal that action in their budget in order to burnish their credentials as opponents of the federal health care reform law they call “Obamacare.”

There is an even better example from the Affordable Care Act: the formation of a state-based health insurance exchange that would force insurance companies to be transparent with Minnesotans about healthcare costs. Minnesota must take action to form such an exchange by the end of 2012, and the business community – including the insurers themselves – issued repeated calls for legislators to take the first steps toward setting up a Minnesota exchange this session. Yet the Republican-led legislature did nothing. Instead of listening to their business-community allies, they bowed to Tea Party opposition.

Time and time again, on questions of both budget and policy, the Republicans in the Legislature have chosen ideology and greed over the best interests of patients and the model of quality care we have built in Minnesota. Their proposed healthcare budget will weaken our community by cutting off access to care for the poor and disabled in order to protect the richest Minnesotans from paying a dime more in income taxes.

That’s wrong.

We need a balanced approach to solving our state’s budget that includes asking Minnesota’s millionaires to pay their fair share to keep our state great. Our predecessors fought hard to build Minnesota as a national model for quality care. Let’s not allow ideology and greed to tear it down.

Julie K. Schnell is the president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota

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