A law that tossed seriously ill undocumented immigrants off Emergency Medical Care will be reevaluated, promises Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers. The provision in the Republican authored legislation, which never had a public hearing, was added to a large budget bill during a special session in July.
“We’ll evaluate it. And if there needs to be a fix or correction. We’ll do that,” Zellers told a press conference on Friday.
Governor Mark Dayton who signed the legislation says he was not aware of the provision when he signed the bill into law. He says the several pages of provisions that targeted immigrants were intentional and came from the Republican chairs of the committee that drafted the legislation.
“I think there was an intentionality there,” said Governor Dayton. “So it’s really incumbent on them to say what their intentions was and whether this was the outcome that they intended, and if so why. And if not, let’s go back and correct it.”
The law which went into effect this month essentially forces undocumented immigrants on life-saving kidney dialysis and cancer treatments to seek more expensive care through hospital emergency rooms.
“I think some of it really goes beyond the pale of what Minnesotans think is fair treatment of fellow human beings, which is to discontinue people’s emergency treatment and threaten their lives,” said Governor Dayton.
Hospitals forced to swallow costs on uncompensated care, government transparency issues
The uncompensated care is no longer covered by the State of Minnesota, leaving hospitals to foot the bill.
About half of the people who would lose their medical care are in Hennepin County, according to Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman. “It’s an impact of 22 million dollars on lost emergency medical assistance in Hennepin county alone. So we’re really worried about folks who are in nursing homes, folks who are on dialysis, chemotherapy, have a serious mental illness or rely on emergency medical assistance for their care and for their medication.”
Governor Dayton indicated that such policy was “extreme”. He told the press “I hope we can revisit and I hope we can find agreement that we are not going to push any of this to the extreme. We’re going to keep within the boundaries of what most, almost all, Minnesotans would say is responsible and humane public policy.”
The language in the bill was not available to the public before it passed in the late night special session. Linden Gawboy of the Welfare Rights Committee tried to find out what was in the bill during the one day special session, but could not. “We were up watching the session until 2 in the morning, in fact on The UpTake, and going and scrambling to get a summary of this bill. There was nothing available to the public. What was available to the public was one sentence, saying ‘amending certain provisions’. That was it. ”
Asked about what that said for government transparency, Speaker Zellers defended the people who wrote the bill. “I’m not going to say, right here, nefarious, not nefarious. They were guilty, not guilty. I don’t think that’s fair to the people who were working on it.”
He also said that he didn’t think the authors of the bill were trying to do anything intentional to harm Minnesotans. “I don’t think you can assume that about anybody, any parties at the table.”
Speaker Zellers says the bill contained “nation leading” reform, but did not indicate if he considered the anti-immigrant provision to be part of that.
Transcript of portions of press conference about cutting off Emergency Medical Assistance to undocumented immigrants
Jacob Wheeler, The UpTake: At the conclusion of the special session last year, funding was removed for the Emergency Medical Assistance program. All that was written in the public record about that was ‘changes to the welfare bill’ , but records have show that that’s going to effect Emergency Medical Assistance program funding is going to effect thousands, half of them in Hennepin County. Can you speak to the effect this might have and what recourse might be taken? Governor and the Republican leadership as well?
Governor Mark Dayton: Well, I was not personally aware of it at the time. Commissioner (Lucinda) Jessen, I don’t think at that point in her first six months was fully aware, cognizant of the implications of it. It came from, in fairness, from the Republican chairs of the committee, I don’t know which ones —Senator (David) Hann or Representative (Jim) Abeler. And I think there was an intentionality there. So it’s really incumbent on them to say what their intentions was and whether this was the outcome that they intended, and if so why. And if not, let’s go back and correct it. I’m certainly would like to correct it. I think some of it really goes beyond the pale of what Minnesotans think is fair treatment of fellow human beings, which is to discontinue people’s emergency treatment and threaten their lives. So I hope we can revisit and I hope we can find agreement that we are not going to push any of this to the extreme. We’re going to keep within the boundaries of what most, almost all, Minnesotans would say is responsible and humane public policy.
Wheeler: Speaker Zellers, leaders , I wanted to return to an earlier question that Governor Dayton answered about the Emergency Medical Assistance program. Funding was removed for it at the end of the special session. Two part question— Your take on how that impacts Minnesotans and two, all that was written in the public record about that at the end of the special session was ‘changes to welfare bill’. So how does that impact Minnesotans and what can you say about government transparency given that not much about that was disclosed.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers: Well again as I said the last time, I don’t believe that commissioner Jessen, Chairman (Steve) Gottwalt, Chairman Abler, Chairman Hann or their Democrat leads were working in a way, in, in, in what we saw of them and we were pretty surprised at how well they worked together on the issue, in this issue. That they were in any way intentionally doing anything that was going to harm Minnesotans. I don’t think that’s… I don’t think you can assume that about anybody, any parties at the table.
But it is one of the biggest, most intricate parts of our state budget. So, again if there’s a mistake that needs to be ….needs to be corrected, they’ll do that. I don’t know how much more complicated…. I’m not familiar with all the details.
I don’t think as you heard from the Governor, I don’t think he was very familiar with them as well. So we will look at it. We’ll evaluate it. And if there needs to be a fix or correction. We’ll do that. But I’m not going to say, right here, nefarious, not nefarious. They were guilty, not guilty. I don’t think that’s fair to the people who were working on it, because they did work very well, Commissioner Jessen and all both Republican and Democrat leads on that committee, they worked very well together on that bill and it has some real, what I would consider remarkable reform that is going to be nation-leading. So, I think we’ll wait for the details to come out.