By State Rep. Dean Urdahl
Persistence pays and we recently were reminded of that in St. Paul when we found a way to continue providing medical care for the poor while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
The good news for all of us is our poorest Minnesotans will continue receiving health care support, yet our taxpayers will benefit by saving more than $700 million per two-year budget cycle.
General Assistance Medical Care is the current system that covers health care for about 30,0000 low-income single Minnesotans ages 18-64.; the vast majority of these patients are in the metro area. But the cost of operating GAMC has grown unsustainable at about $1 billion in the next biennium. This program is paid for through out general fund – no federal money – and is in drastic need of reform.
Our efforts to re-tool the system began with the straight-forward goals of containing costs and providing better care. Some legislators proposed extending GAMC until the next biennium and set up some reforms that would come down the road. But many of us recognized the need to do something sooner and, with GAMC set to expire in June, now is the perfect time.
The agreement we are set to adopt is aimed at capping spending, directing dollars to the areas of most need, transitioning patients to the most appropriate health care program, and helping these folks regain their health and productivity. The true reform was found in connecting previously unconnected health care providers to make sure people are getting care that gets them back on their feet instead of racking up revenue.
We still are waiting for official passage of this reform into law, but the significant twists and turns during the process apparently will bring us to an improved, more sustainable model.
It took considerable negotiating from the minority to reach this point. I did not feel either of the original proposals from the majority or the governor provided adequate fixes, but I also knew true reform was being discussed and could be implemented; it was just going to take a willingness to embrace new ideas, regardless of was offering them. We twice cast votes to continue negotiating a solution – including denying an attempt to override the governor’s veto – and those votes produced true reform when our ideas finally were accepted.
We should all hope this kind of bipartisan breakthrough becomes the norm and leads to improvements in other areas of state business.