Local reps follow DFL-GOP split on health care bill

Published 10:02 am Friday, May 1, 2015

Associated Press and Austin Daily Herald

ST. PAUL — The Health and Human Services Omnibus bill approved in the House has produced a traditional GOP/DFL divide.

Many state Democrats say the measure passed on Wednesday is riddled with budget gimmicks, while severely cutting current programs. But Minnesota Republicans contend the bill will provide help for long-term care facilities, residents and workers.

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The area’s two local representatives were representative of the state split on the issue.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, came out against the bill and joined DFL leaders who’ve strongly criticized the elimination of MinnesotaCare and the cutting of more than $1 billion from current programs.

“Eliminating the MinnesotaCare program hurts Minnesota’s working families and mostly families in Greater Minnesota,” Poppe said in a press release. “Nearly 500 people in Mower County will lose their current health care coverage with this bill. Additionally, this bill defunds the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). SHIP is recognized as a preventative, outcome-based effort encouraging people to live healthier and take ownership for their own wellness.”

However, Rep. Peggy Bennett, GOP-Albert Lea, supported the bill’s benefits for aging Minnesotans.

“I am excited that our bill prioritizes our aging adults, investing more than $138 million in senior care facilities,” Bennett said in a press release. “In addition, the bill invests $90 million to provide a 5% increase to home and community-based caregivers, which will mean a pay increase for those who care for our most vulnerable Minnesotans. This bill will mean improved care for our elders, and help keep senior care facilities across the state open to ensure that loved ones are able to stay close to their families.”

The state’s $2 billion surplus is one reason DFL leaders have come out in opposition to the bill.

Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, said Republicans are wasting the projected $1.9 billion surplus on preferred projects.

“When you cut $1 billion out of a budget there are more losers than winners,” said Metsa. Cutting MinnesotaCare will hurt Minnesotans and cost working families money. With a $2 billion surplus we should be picking more winners.”

But Rep. John Petersburg, R–Wasceca, said that under the new bill nursing homes would be able to raise staff pay, which would provide better services for people in long-term care facilities by retaining workers who may otherwise move on to other jobs.

“This bill reforms reimbursements for nursing homes, and will result in significant increased funding, allowing them to retain and increase pay for staff and provide quality care for our aging adults,” Petersburg said.

“The bill also helps home- and community-based caregivers who care for some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens, and boosts access to mental health, dental, and other important health services.”

DFL House lawmakers last week questioned the Republican estimate that the state would save $300 million by auditing public programs and identifying waste and fraud.

The actual savings would be around $16 million, according House Minority Leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis, who cited a Minnesota Management and Budget report.

DFLers claim that if MinnesotaCare is eliminated, more than 100,000 people would need to find a means of coverage many cannot afford.

Republican legislators say MNsure would cover those who lose coverage from the bill.

But it’s uncertain if enrollees would be given subsidies for further insurance costs.

Republicans are also lauding the bill for reducing premium payments by restoring funding for the Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities Program.

Rep. Brian Daniels, R–Faribault, is hopeful that the bill would help address the long-term care issues prevalent in Greater Minnesota, one of the few issues Democrats and Republicans agree upon.

“Included in the bill is legislation that provides real reform to facilities that care for our elderly by implementing a statewide rate of reimbursement — which will strongly assist nursing homes in Greater Minnesota, improve the wages of care providers and provide a permanent solution to statewide nursing home needs,” said Daniels.

“I am encouraged by the strong investments that we have made in our rural nursing homes,” continued Daniels. “This bill makes real investments and reforms that will help ensure that health care in Minnesota remains among the best in the nation.”

The following totals represent the annual change in Medicaid and estimated private revenue for the 2016 rate year at three facilities in Daniels’ district if the House legislation is signed into law by Governor Dayton:

• St. Lucas Care Center in Faribault: $696,834, an 18 percent increase.

• Pleasant Manor Inc. in Faribault: $591,584, a 20.48 percent increase.

• Faribault Care Center: $325,647, a 14.94 percent increase.