June 1 marked the beginning of a new chapter in Minnesota health care history. Unfortunately, the outlook for this particular chapter is bleak.
Starting Monday, changes to Minnesota’s General Assistance Medical Care program took effect. Minnesota 2020 has detailed how the new numbers add up, but it is also important to understand how miserable a situation the new GAMC program creates for individuals. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, for “thousands [of GAMC recipients]… who live outside the metro area… [the only] choices for medical care are: Get help at [the] local hospital emergency room, look for clinics willing to give free care or commute to the Twin Cities.” This is because as a result of the changes (read: gutting) of GAMC, there are currently only four hospitals, all in the Metro area, giving comprehensive care to GAMC patients.
The dangers of such changes are underscored by a new study published last month in the American Journal of Public Health. According to U.S. News & World Report, the study shows that homeless Americans are up to 10 times less likely to receive needed health care compared to the rest of the population. Perhaps most noteworthy is that “the working poor – those that had been employed at least part time in the past year – were less likely to get the care they needed than those who were unemployed, in part because they were less likely to have health insurance.”
This is particularly ironic in that this year’s budget also included cuts to the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), a welfare-to-work program aimed at helping the working poor, as well as a 15% payment cut to providers of MinnesotaCare for childless adults, another program whose recipients tend to be working poor. In creating such a dire situation for the working poor, GAMC recipients, and the hospitals tasked with caring for these patients on fewer dollars, Minnesota is exacerbating the problem rather than trying to alleviate it.
This chapter in Minnesota health care doesn’t have to be a permanent one. With a new governor taking office in January, it will be possible to expand Medical Assistance by $188 million in order to receive $1.4 billion in federal dollars to help cover the cost of care for these patients. The prospect of raising that $188 million through a surcharge on health care providers is actually something providers prefer to the system that took effect yesterday. Hopefully, a new governor in 2011 can close the book on this ugly system that leaves no one, neither health care providers nor recipients, satisfied.