House passes Medical Assistance expansion

The House voted 71-56 on Monday to exercise its option under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to expand Medical Assistance, a federal Medicaid program for people with low incomes.

HF9, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL-Duluth), now moves to the full Senate, where Sen. Kathy Sheran (DFL-Mankato) is the sponsor.

More than 35,000 additional low-wage earners could qualify for Medical Assistance coverage as a result. Current eligibility covers adults without minor children who earn up to 75 percent of the federal poverty level. That would expand to include those earning up to 138 percent, or about $15,000 per year. Increases in income limits would take effect in January 2014.

In addition, thousands of people currently enrolled in the state-offered MinnesotaCare health insurance program are expected to shift to the expanded federal program, which will not include limits on hospitalization as MinnesotaCare does.

For the first few years of the program, the federal government would reimburse the state for 100 percent of the costs associated with some of the additional enrollees, rather than at the current 50 percent rate. Reimbursement would drop to 90 percent after the third year.

Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill with a contingency in the event the federal government fails to reimburse the state for a minimum 50 percent or more of those costs, which could add up to $2 billion per year.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” said Abeler, who pointed to the $16 trillion-plus federal deficit.

Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) echoed Abeler’s sentiment, asking “Do you really believe the federal government can afford to do that?”

Huntley said legislators don’t deal in “what ifs.”

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) agreed. “If the money suddenly went away this body would deal with it. Let’s not tie our own hands,” she said.

The General Fund would not be impacted by the bill and the state could end up saving $129 million in the 2014-2015 biennium, and an estimated $237 million the following biennium.

The legislation must be passed by March 15 to meet a federal deadline under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

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Sue Hegarty's picture
Susan Hegarty

Susan Hegarty (suehegarty [at] aol [dot] com) is a freelance writer/editor based in the Twin Cities and president of Pencil Thin Communications, Inc.