Tricounty News

GAMC solution: Less expensive, covers more people

When it comes to providing health care for the poorest and sickest Minnesotans, there is bipartisan agreement that we have a problem that needs to be solved. General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) was vetoed by the Governor last May and is scheduled to be eliminated on April 1st. For over nine months we have been working together bipartisanly to come up with a solution that recognizes the fiscal, economic, and human costs. All Minnesotans have a stake in this solution.

There are significant fiscal costs at stake. We recognized the need to reform and reduce the cost of GAMC given our budget challenges. Our solution, which I am a co-author, costs $252 million and will cover 38,000 Minnesotans per month at a cost of $457 per person. The Governor's alternative would cost $254 million and will cover only 21,000 Minnesotans per month at a cost of $937 per person. This is the best argument for our solution - it's less expensive and covers more people.

There are significant economic costs at stake. Just like all of us, GAMC enrollees go to the emergency room if they are ill. If their health coverage is eliminated, they will still go to emergency rooms, only now the hospitals will not be reimbursed for their care. Without a legislative solution on GAMC hospitals will collectively lose $80 million. St. Cloud Hospital would lose $6 million. Hospitals can compensate for this reduction in two ways - cut health care jobs and services, or increase charges which will impact co-pays and health insurance premiums for the rest of us.

Perhaps most importantly, there are significant human costs at stake. 85,000 Minnesotans utilize GAMC per year. They all earn less than $7,800 per year. 80 percent have mental health or chemical dependency issues or both. 60 percent have chronic illnesses. 30 percent are homeless. Many are recently disabled or mentally disabled from things like a stroke or car accident. As many as 8,000 are veterans. No matter our political preferences and guided by our values, the vast majority of us agree we need to care for these people when they are sick.

The Governor's alternative to GAMC, which will go into effect without a legislative solution, is to auto-enroll all GAMC recipients into MinnesotaCare. This does not work well for several reasons. First, MinnesotaCare is a program that provides health care to low-wage working Minnesotans. Those enrolled pay a monthly premium and have co-pays. Many on GAMC cannot afford it and would not receive care. Second, the Governor is mailing out notices to GAMC enrollees to let them know they can sign-up to be enrolled in MinnesotaCare, but thirty percent on GAMC are homeless. They won't get a notice and they won't be signed up. Under this plan, 17,000 Minnesotans per month would not receive GAMC coverage.

As we debated this bill on the House floor, I read part of a letter from Catholic bishops sent to priest and parishioners across our state about the dignity of life. It said, "When we deny health care for any human person, we ignore their human dignity, and when we ignore their human dignity, we fail to recognize the value of human life itself." Our legislative solution would maintain our commitment and care for the dignity of life of all Minnesotans.

When I was first elected to the Minnesota House I truly believed that by working hard and working across the aisle, we could solve problems and get things done for Minnesota. That is exactly what we did when we passed this bipartisan legislative solution off the House floor on a vote of 125 - 9. It's unfortunate that the Governor vetoed our bipartisan solution and even more unfortunate that 38 legislators who supported our solution switched their vote to uphold the Governor's veto.

GAMC is set to expire on April 1st. In the next few weeks I hope we can again capture the bipartisan spirit that produced this solution in order to do what Minnesotans expect of us - work together and get things done.