Others’ opinion: Health care: spending take long-term savings approach

Published 7:52 am Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Free Press

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Democrats and Republicans start from opposite poles on the state’s health care spending and continuation of the provider tax, but the solution lies in a long-term cost and immediate value approach that has been successful in the past.

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Gov. Tim Walz supports continuing the tax on health care providers, which has been in place since the 1990s and was set to expire this year. The Republican-controlled Senate has favored allowing the tax to expire. It has been used to fund MinnesotaCare, a Republican plan established in the 1990s to provide affordable health care for the working poor.

The problem is about $700 million. That’s how much the provider tax brings to the state’s budget. So, removing the income stream immediately reduces much if not all of any state surplus estimated at between $1.5 billion and $400 million, depending on inflation.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka suggests recovering the $700 million by cutting health and human service programs or reducing waste and fraud.

One can argue about the amount of waste and fraud, and there likely are some savings available. But it’s stretch to suggest there are $700 million worth of savings.

The specifics of spending cuts get more politically sensitive. Cutting funding usually means cutting eligibility of these programs to someone in need of heavy-duty medical services. If we make them ineligible, they more than likely will simply rely on more expensive emergency room visits, where a person who is sick cannot be denied under federal law, even if they can’t pay.

Coming together will require a longer-term look at the spending. Taking a plan from Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s playbook in 2008, Democrats and Republicans should look at solutions like health care homes developed during that time.

Clinics that were willing to better coordinate care among doctors, nurses and other health care providers, such as nutrition educators, received higher reimbursements than the typical payments they say never covered their costs.

Long-term cost savings were achieved through the program. Patients went to emergency rooms less, andgot better primary care. In 2016, the University of Minnesota conducted a study of the plan from 2010 to 2014 and determined it saved the state $1 billion over five years.

So, part of the solution to today’s dilemma will involve expanding programs like the health care homes program and offering others.

There’s plenty of savings to be had in the health care industry. Democrats and Republicans must be smart about finding them.

Cutting people off from needed health care will in the long run will just create an even bigger budget hole.