by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton today (Thursday, Jan. 20) indicated he would veto any bills lawmakers sent him aimed at undoing the state’s participation in expanded federal health care coverage.
“This is one time I would say I would veto anything that would come forward that attempts to reduce the program or rescind it,” said Dayton of the state’s opt-in on early Medicaid benefits.
Dayton Human Services Commissioner Cindy Jesson, the governor, and health care providers at a Capitol press conference today announced that eligible Minnesotans will begin receiving expanded Medicaid benefits on March 1.
This is some seven months sooner than officials first believed possible.
“I would say elections do matter,” said Jesson of the quick actions.
Former Republican governor Tim Pawlenty refused to sign the opt-in paperwork, but Dayton quickly did so after being sworn into office.
Human services department staff members were eager to take advantage of the federal health care offer, Jesson indicated.
It just makes sense, Dayton argued. “We all benefit from this,” he said.
Opting-in will free some $1.2 billion in federal funding for Minnesota — patients in Greater Minnesota forced to drive long distance for health care treatments because of lack of access will enjoy better access.
“Now that’s really cruel and inhuman,” Dayton said of commuter health care.
Minnesota Hospital Association Chairwoman Mary Klimp called the opt-in “incredibly important to rural Minnesota” because of improved health care access.
Only a handful of metro hospitals provide services through GAMC, according to the administration.
The Medicaid expansion will see some 32,000 Minnesotans currently covered under the state’s General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) transition onto medical assistance.
Beyond GAMC, the opt-in will provide benefits to 51,000 people currently enrolled in the state’s health care program MinnesotaCare plus additionally cover about 12,000 poor Minnesotans.
Although Republicans have expressed concern the deficit-burdened federal government will ultimately fall short in meeting its funding obligations, Dayton and Jesson expressed confidence.
“I would not be doing anything if I did not feel confident,” said Jesson. Dayton backed the commissioner.
“I absolutely will vouch for the federal government,” said Dayton, saying he had spoken with Obama Administration officials about the program.
But House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, recently expressed doubt about the controversial federal health care bill.
“I don’t believe the federal government will be able to uphold their end of the bargain,” he said.
“We’re going to build a program and create expectations on people we care deeply about, and be unable to serve them,” said Abeler.