MN Senate pinches poor, disabled

By Christina Wessel
Contributing Writer

The health and human services omnibus bill recently released by the state Senate cuts $1.6 billion from general fund base spending for the FY 2012-13 biennium. The bill also makes $268 million in cuts to the Health Care Access Fund and $23 million in cuts to federal funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The Senate bill would have a significant impact on tens of thousands of Minnesotans, including working people who would lose access to affordable health care, people with disabilities who would no longer have services that help them live independently, and struggling individuals and families that would see essential safety-net programs disappear.

The Senate bill would dramatically restructure public health insurance in Minnesota. All families and children on Medical Assistance (MA) with household income above 75 percent of poverty ($13,898 for a family of three) and all MinnesotaCare enrollees with household income above 133 percent of poverty ($24,645 for a family of three) would lose their health care coverage and would instead be provided with a set amount to purchase coverage in the private market. These low-income individuals would likely face higher out-of-pocket costs for premiums, deductibles and co-payments.

Several other important proposed changes include eliminating state-funded MA coverage for legal non-citizens ($21 million cut in FY 2012-13) and eliminating coverage for some services for Minnesotans on MA and MinnesotaCare, including chiropractic, podiatry, specialized therapies for adults, eyeglasses and prosthetics.

The Senate bill includes substantial reductions in services that will have a negative impact on the ability of people with disabilities to live independently. The bill includes $103 million in cuts to waiver programs that enable individuals with disabilities to access home-based Medicaid services that help them avoid entering a more expensive and confining institutional setting.
The cuts include capping growth in these waiver programs and reducing rates for congregate living facilities. More than 830 Minnesotans with disabilities are expected to end up in an institutional setting — either a nursing home or hospital — as a result of these cuts.

The Senate bill also increases the challenges for other vulnerable individuals and families. General Assistance (GA) is a safety-net program for extremely low-income adults without children who are unable to work, many of whom are elderly or disabled. The Senate bill radically restructures GA by turning it into a block grant to counties and capping funding at $47 million a year (a $20 million reduction in FY 2012-13).

Under the Senate bill, families participating in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) would see their monthly grant reduced by $150 for each severely disabled individual living in their household.

The Senate bill eliminates the Minnesota Food Assistance Program, which provides food assistance for non-citizens over the age of 50 who are not eligible for the federal food support program. It reduces the rates for childcare assistance for working families by five percent, saving $14 million in FY 2012-13. The bill also eliminates several grants that improve the childcare system by funding training and capacity-building for childcare providers, information for parents, and child care for migrant children.

The Senate bill eliminates many grant programs, including funding for family planning, tribal public health, health disparities, migrant workers, adult mental health crisis teams, lead abatement, child welfare among American Indians, translation of vital documents, and youth tobacco cessation. There are also reductions in grants for senior nutrition programs and adult mental health initiatives.

The Senate bill transfers $124 million from the Health Care Access Fund (HCAF) to help balance the state’s general fund deficit. These are resources that are intended to ensure working families have access to affordable health care.

There are some other significant issues in the bill worth mentioning, such as phasing out nursing home rate equalization, imposing a 60-day residency requirement for the Minnesota Family Investment Program, eliminating the funding for medical education and research (MERC), prohibiting state funds from being used to plan for or implement the federal Affordable Care Act until it has been affirmed by the Supreme Court, banning human cloning, and prohibiting the state from using state funds or accepting federal funds for family planning.

Thanks to Christina Wessel and the MN Daily Planet for sharing this story with us.