On the Issues
GOVERNOR'S BUDGET WILL SHIFT COSTS TO LOCAL HOSPITALS
April 11, 2005
As lawmakers, we are tasked with crafting a state budget. While this is never a small job, the $1.16 billion budget deficit certainly adds an additional challenge.
Tough economic times require tough decision-making. However, I disagree with the notion that eliminating affordable health insurance options is either a fiscally or a morally responsible thing for the state to do. That is why I have joined with my colleagues in support of a plan that would cover more, not fewer, Minnesotans.
Since 2001, 77,000 Minnesotans have lost their health care coverage. If the Governor's budget plan were to pass as proposed, it is estimated that another 26,000 Minnesotans would find themselves in the same predicament.
While the human cost to these cuts is evident, it also provides great expense to taxpayers.
The state may initially save money by changing eligibility requirements for state subsidized health care, but taxpayers are inequitably burdened later on.
The fact of the matter is people without healthcare coverage don't stop getting sick. Instead, they wait until they are in need of expensive emergency care and find themselves in our hospitals and clinics unable to pay. Hospitals in our state lost almost $330 million in 2004 due to bills that patients were unable to pay or were written off by providers as charity care. These "uncompensated care" costs have increased by 28 percent in recent years. County hospitals and clinics turn to the state's taxpayers to fill that budget void. In addition, those of us who are insured pay some of the price in ever increasing healthcare premiums and co-pays. Inevitably, it is you and I that absorb the cost of their care.
The best way to avoid the expensive uncompensated care costs is to improve access to affordable health insurance. One of the ways to do this is to provide options for small business to offer affordable healthcare to their employees. Currently, 84 percent of Minnesota's uninsured are either employed or are dependents of an employed person.
I am proud to support the "Main Street Care" initiative that would open up access to two existing health care programs in the state. The first would enable small employers and families to save on the cost of health insurance by buying into MinnesotaCare and paying discounted premiums. By expanding, not dismantling this innovative program, we allow the state to negotiate to reduce the cost of healthcare by leveraging our purchasing power. This is what other large insurers are able to do, why shouldn't the state?
The second would give individuals the option to buy the same health benefits currently available to state legislators. Employers would save five percent on the cost of coverage, and workers would have a choice of providers from three health plan networks instead of just one. While the MinnesotaCare option may be more affordable, the legislative health plan offers more choices to workers.
Expanding existing programs to allow additional access to healthcare options for small employers, the self-employed, family farmers and individuals, doesn't cost the state a thing. But it does provide choices for businesses that struggle to provide their workers, who they value, with affordable healthcare for their families.
Like I said, tough economic times require us to make the tough decisions. But it also makes us set priorities. I remain committed to improving access to healthcare and providing for our public education.