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House committee moves to make deeper cuts in MinnesotaCare than Pawlenty suggested
House Republicans are proposing to cut about 30,000 people from state-subsidized health insurance. The reduction is part of the health and human services budget package they released on Tuesday. The spending plan funds a wide variety of programs over the next two years including nursing homes, health insurance for the poor and programs for the disabled. Supporters say the cuts are necessary to curtail costs while critics say it's mean spirited to kick people off of health insurance.

St. Paul, Minn. — House Republicans are proposing deeper cuts to public health insurance programs than Gov. Pawlenty's budget. Pawlenty has proposed cutting at least 27,000 people off MinnesotaCare, a program that subsidizes health insurance for the working poor.

Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, is the chief author of the omnibus budget bill. His proposal lowers the income limit for those on MinnesotaCare to about $34,000 a year for a family of four. Anyone who earns more would lose their coverage. Full-time college students and adults without children would also lose their coverage under the proposal.

Bradley says the cuts are necessary, because enrollment in state health insurance programs is rising too fast.

"We spend more per capita on public assisted health care than any other state in the nation. The trajectory of health increases for health programs is in the range of 27 to 28 percent a biennium. We can't keep up," according to Bradley.

Other major portions of the bill include higher out-of-pocket medical costs for MinnesotaCare recipients, and a 5 percent payment reduction to hospitals. Low-income single adults on General Assistance Medical Care would also have to pay more toward their health insurance.

Bradley's bill does provide funding increases for nursing homes and home care services. Most notably, nursing homes and long-term care facilities would see an annual 2 percent increase over the next two years.

"We have championed the cause of the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, rates and those kinds of things. We have championed that because we think that's where the priority ought to be," says Bradley.

He says it's possible that they won't have to cut as many people from MinnesotaCare if the House approves a state-run casino. He says the House health and human services budget bill would increase by $20 million if a casino is approved.

Bradley plans on taking public testimony on the bill and has scheduled a committee vote for Thursday. House DFLers don't like the proposal. Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, says the MinnesotaCare program has helped hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans get health insurance.

"Hard-working Minnesota families ought to have health insurance. And if they don't get it through their employer, then they need a program like MinnesotaCare to give them help. They pay part of the premium and the state pays part of the premium," says Huntley.

If the full House approves the bill, it would have to be reconciled with the DFL-controlled Senate. Last month, the Senate approved a bill that would restore cuts made to MinnesotaCare two years ago.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, says both the House Republican plan and Gov. Pawlenty's proposal are shortsighted. She says anyone who loses their health insurance will still seek care at more expensive emergency rooms. Berglin says it's better to provide health insurance coverage so illnesses are treated earlier.

"When people end up in the emergency room because they didn't get primary care, that's wasted money. Emergency rooms should be reserved for people who have car accidents and heart attacks, not for people who get their diabetes diagnosed or treated and now all of a sudden they're in a diabetic coma," Berglin says.

Berglin says she hopes to release her health and human services budget bill by early next week.