More than 18,000 Minnesotans are slated to lose their health insurance. Why? Minnesota has been too successful, and now the federal government plans to dumb down the health care bell curve by taking critical money from the state.
A handful of states, including Minnesota, have created state -funded health care plans. Here, MinnesotaCare covers more than 117,000 people, with small increases in that number slated for the next several years. The program, paid for through taxes on hospitals, providers, and cigarette sales, is extremely successful. Last year, the program posted a more than $200 million surplus. This great success story has turned out to be a burden more often than a blessing. Last year the surplus was raided to cover the state’s deficit. Now, the federal government is using MinnesotaCare as a reason to cut federal funds.
The federal government earmarks funds annually to be used for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). About a half-dozen states have waivers to use the money to cover parents of children that fall under the SCHIP guidelines. SCHIP legislation has been controversial, falling short in some states, often times only insuring children for a short time before changing eligibility and dropping those children. Many states are now facing a deficit because they are unable to cover everyone who qualifies for SCHIP. However, that’s not the case in Minnesota.
So why would the federal government cut funding? The crux of the argument seems to lie with opposition to covering adults. Minnesota uses a waiver to expand SCHIP’s scope. Minnesota used it to help expand the successful MinnesotaCare insurance plan to help insure even more residents. Between the federal funding and the already existing Health Care Access Fund, Minnesota has an enviably low number of uninsured residents.
So, on the surface, the government’s decision could make some sense. SCHIP money is earmarked for children and pregnant adults that fall between 100 and 200% of the federal poverty guideline, and the Bush Administration argues using it to fill in the cracks is an inappropriate use of money that could be used to help cover children.
Of course, it’s much more complicated. A large percentage of those covered by the SCHIP funds are parents of children who qualify for state health care funds. And as Christine Bronson, director of Medicaid told the Star Tribune 2 weeks ago, “We believe that by covering parents, you improve access for kids.”
Sick parents, especially those that have chronic conditions or have children with chronic conditions have a much harder time taking care of family responsibilities, such as being consistent at their jobs, not using the emergency room for primary care, and paying medical bills. By removing the funding from these parents, entire families will suffer.
Here’s the kicker. The 18,000 people affected by next week’s decision have yet to be informed their health insurance is at risk. Minnesota’s congressional delegation is working to stop this decision, and the Governor’s office remains optimistic. The Department of Human Services says it doesn’t want to worry the families that would be affected before a decision is made. Which means there is a proverbial bus heading towards 18,000 Minnesotans and they don’t see it coming. Losing the SCHIP funding will cost Minnesota almost $135 million health care dollars in three years.
Every year for the past several years, health care coverage for state residents is one of the jewels in the Minnesota crown. Pulling funding because we are so successful makes no sense if we continue to try and set the health care curve. Minnesotans should build on our success stories and not allow ourselves to be pulled to the middle of the pack.