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Olson asks for input on health care reform

The recently enacted federal health care program will affect how Minnesota delivers health care in future years, says Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

"It's a long bill, so there's a lot of information in that bill about things that affect many different stakeholder groups, from people looking at providing for their long-term care needs at the end of their life to making sure that children are included in health coverage," Olson said Tuesday evening in a telephone interview.

To better understand how the federal bill will affect changes Minnesota needs to make, Olson is holding an informational meeting 3-5 p.m. Friday in the North County Regional Hospital's Education Center on the east side of the hospital.

The first hour will feature information on the new bill to help providers and the public understand the details of the legislation and options that are now available. It will feature a video replay for a presentation given last week in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which Olson is a member.

For the second hour, Olson wants to hear from providers how the federal health care reform bill will affect them, in order to frame voting decisions as they arise in the Minnesota Senate.

"An awful lot of what I read about it isn't really the way it turns out," Olson said. "But then there are a lot of other things that I never heard mentioned that actually are in the bill."

Provisions will affect how rural hospitals will be reimbursed for care, which interests Olson the most. She believes the federal health care provision for Extended Medicaid, should Minnesota apply for early adoption of it, will provide more money to the Bemidji hospital than the Gov. Tim Pawlenty-pushed cure to General Assistance Medical care.

"From the outset of the governor's GAMC proposal, it was clear rural Minnesota hospitals would not be able to benefit from a 'pool' created to compensate participating hospitals for the care they provide to our poorest and sickest Minnesotans," said Olson of the Minnesota health bill she opposed.

"We now are hearing that even the metro area hospitals will not be able to utilize the governor's 'fix,'" she said. "Early Medicaid enrollment, with 50 percent of the cost paid at the federal level, is an alternative the Legislature will be considering over the next several weeks."

The video summarizes a presentation that includes University of Minnesota and state Commerce and Human Services departments experts. They give an overview of the new law and timeline for its implementation. They will also lay out the different choices the Legislature will be discussing over the next several years and the affect decisions made in St. Paul will have on Minnesota health care.

Following the video, NCRH officials and other health care providers will provide feedback and advice about how the state might best take advantage of the options available.

"To some extent, the federal law is going to change some of our state programs," Olson said. "The federal legislation puts certain standards in place for the entire country. It also has a menu of options from which the state can select, if it chooses to do so, to accomplish certain goals."

She called them "opportunities" that states can decide to pursue or not to pursue. "Some of them are things that are choices that we would make; others things in the federal legislation are going to be phased in over a period of years -- in fact, most of what's in the federal legislation isn't gong to happen tomorrow."

For instance, a provision mandating that all Americans purchase health insurance doesn't take effect until at least 2014, and then will provide help to both small businesses and individuals to pay for that coverage. Olson said provisions calling for long-term care insurance are voluntary, but those choosing it can receive subsidized help.

"There are some things states can choose to do if they wish to opt in earlier to certain aspects of the reform," Olson said, such as the Extended Medicaid program for the poor, which the federal government will pay 50 percent of the costs and higher reimbursements.

Pawlenty, however, has vowed to veto adopting federal health care provisions in Minnesota, saying the nearly $1 trillion package costs too much in adding to the federal debt.

"Our rural hospitals are telling us they're not going to be able to participate in a state pool" under the new state fix for GAMC, Olson said. "They're going to end up just eating those costs, which will have an impact on everyone in rural health care facilities because they're going to have to make p those costs."

Yet to be determined is the cost to the state, she said. "There are savings on one hand and costs on the other, we're trying to get a handle on where that would put is, in terms of our budget."

The meeting will allow local medical providers to gain an understanding of what's in the massive new act and also to give Olson input. And hey can tell me how I should vote, as far as we're considering these options, in a real, very specific way in terms of dollars and cents in what these choices might mean to our local health care facilities."

Under the GAMC state replacement, most hospitals would share in a pool of funds, doled out per patient and capped. "You have to assume so much risk," Olson said. "It's impossible at the beginning of the year, on an individual patient basis, to quantify because you don't know what that patient's needs are going to be. You also don't know how much money you're going to get out of the pool to help pay for it because it all depends on how many people end up participating."

The new federal Expanded Medicaid provision gives Minnesota another opportunity, she said, "and I hope we can get a lot of very specific input about what it would mean to our health care providers, one way or the other."

The new bill also aids in recruitment of primary physicians, key to rural areas, Olson said. "It will help make sure we have access to those primary health care providers in areas where we're having difficulty attracting and keeping primary care doctors," she said. "Our area is a prime example of that."

Olson doesn't intend for the meeting to be a debate on health care reform or political. "It's simply informational so we can all understand what's actually in this legislation and hear from those who will actually have their reimbursements impacted by this."