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Medicaid opt-in is good for hospitals in rural Minnesota

Gov. Mark Dayton's first executive order this month was to opt Minnesota into early enrollment in the federal Medicaid program for the state's poor.

It was a good move for Willmar's Rice Memorial Hospital and other rural hospitals in west central Minnesota.

Medicaid will provided coverage of nearly 100,000 poor Minnesotans, bring additional federal aid to the state and save nearly 20,000 health-care jobs in rural Minnesota.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's refusal to accept this coverage last year forced 17 rural hospitals outside of the Twin Cities to stop serving many poor residents under the Medicaid program.

Those patients then end up in the same hospitals' emergency rooms, where by law the hospital still has to treat them and absorb the related costs. This is complicated further as many of these patients have chronic diseases, including mental illnesses, which require costly care.

Once these patients are enrolled in the Medicaid program, they can receive care at doctor's offices around the state, providing needed care without going to emergency rooms.

Dayton's move will be beneficial for area hospital providers and bring a significant amount of federal funding to Minnesota health care.