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Persell: Dayton win will see early enrollment in Medicaid program

Deciding the governor's race paves the way for Gov.-elect Mark Dayton to enroll Minnesota into an early Medicaid program, saving millions of dollars for the Bemidji hospital, says Rep. John Persell.

"Our hospitals in greater Minnesota have been hurting and these funds will help," Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said Monday. "We are talking about real money into our hospital and the result will be jobs at a time when jobs are our top priority."

But it will take time to implement.

Current Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has the legislative authority to sign the state up for early Medicaid with the federal government, but refuses to do so. The 2010 Legislature, knowing he would refuse, allowed the incoming governor to do so by Jan. 15.

Democrat Dayton campaigned on saying he would enroll Minnesota, bringing $1.2 billion in federal health care dollars to the state. He pledged to do so as one of his first actions upon taking office Jan. 3.

Persell says the move will infuse much-needed dollars to local hospitals and care providers to cover thousands of Minnesotans currently served under General Assistance Medical Care.

Currently, only four hospitals -- all in the metro area -- offer GAMC care, forcing indigent adult Minnesotans to seek care there or to seek emergency room care elsewhere where hospitals pick up the tab as uncompensated care.

The option to enroll in early MA was granted to Minnesota and other high-performing health care states within the Affordable Care Law. Early MA will cover adults currently enrolled in the triaged (GAMC program and a portion of those on MinnesotaCare for the working poor with matching federal resources. Persell said North Country Regional Health Services in Bemidji stands to gain $5 million and Deer River Health Care Center stands to gain $600,000.

"Right now our hospitals are faced with difficult choices of providing care to GAMC patients and taking a loss or turning those patients away," said Persell. "Early MA ensures we can patch our health care safety net while making sure our hospitals are adequately reimbursed. It's common sense for the common good."

The paperwork is ready to be submitted, but with system conversions to complete, existing health care programs to merge and delivery systems to be developed, the state's Medicaid director, Brian Osberg, told the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division on Tuesday that Oct. 1 is a likely start date.

Minnesota care providers will capture more than $1.2 billion in federal dollars for a state investment of less than $200 million -- a better than 6 to 1 return on the state investment.

Republicans oppose the measure, saying the cost to the state is closer to $400 million and that the state, with a $6.2 billion state budget deficit, can ill afford it. Democrats, however, say they structured the match through surcharges will will be repaid through the MA grant.

"The biggest ripple from early MA will be felt in communities across the state through more jobs and stronger local economies," said Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, chairman of the House health panel that considered the authority. "These resources will inject needed dollars directly into local hospitals, creating thousands of Minnesota jobs at a time when strengthening our economy is our top priority."

"This is a good deal for all Minnesotans," said Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, who serves on several House health panels. "Capturing these resources allow us to fill gaps in our health care safety net and eliminate cost shifting that raises health care premiums and property taxes on all Minnesotans."

Early MA enrollment will also make next year's budget decisions easier by significantly reducing the projected shortfall in the Health Care Access Fund by nearly $500 million, she said. That fund currently provides health care to nearly 200,000 working families in Minnesota. According to the recent budget forecast, early MA will actually cost the state about $50 million less than covering the same population exclusively through MinnesotaCare.

"This option allows us to reduce costs while providing our care providers the resources they need to care for Minnesotans," said Murphy "Early MA is a win-win-win for our care providers, patients, and our state's bottom line."

"Our two biggest tasks next session are to grow our economy and to balance the budget," said Persell. "Early MA will help us on our path to reach both of these goals."