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Hospitals welcome vetoes; wait to see what comes next

WILLMAR -- The state budget bills approved by the Legislature before it adjourned Monday night could have been disastrous for the state's hospitals.

Now that Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed the budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, the state's health care system waits to see what will come next.

The state's hospitals know they will see cuts in reimbursements for care, because of the $5 billion state budget deficit, but the system that's in place should be protected, said Lorry Massa, president of the Minnesota Hospital Association.

Massa and Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, spoke in Willmar Tuesday about the impact the Republican plan could have had in rural Minnesota.

The Hospital Association hopes that a final budget proposal will not include the Legislature's plans to cut coverage for 140,000 low-income Minnesotans and privatize the MinnesotaCare insurance plan with a voucher system.

The Legislature adjourned Monday night without reaching agreement with Dayton on a two-year budget, which begins July 1. Dayton vetoed all of the budget bills on Tuesday.

A special session will be needed to pass a final budget, but no date has been set for that. "They will eventually figure it out; they have to," Massa said. "We need to find a way to get the government ba-ck in the game without destroying some of the things we've come to expect."

The Legislature's plan was "a big departure from what we thought were bipartisan values," Massa said.

Those changes could have led to more Minnesotans without insurance coverage and smaller reimbursements for hospitals, Schramm said.

"MinnesotaCare has been a strong health insurance provider for farmers," Massa said, but the vouchers probably would not have been enough to provide adequate coverage. "We think their plan leaves the illusion that they have a plan for coverage, but it's really not a plan."

Schramm and Massa also questioned why the Republican plan turned away from an early Medicaid sign-up program for low-income people. It would have brought $1.4 billion in federal matching funds to the state.

When more people have no health insurance or inadequate coverage, hospitals are faced with rising bad debts and charity care bills, Schramm said.

Medicaid does not reimburse hospitals at a high level, "but having some coverage is better than none," Schramm said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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