State cuts to impact Albert Lea Medical Center

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut $381 million in funding for General Assistance Medical Care, a move that combined with cuts to the parent portion of MinnesotaCare will have a $1.5 million annual impact on Albert Lea Medical Center, said Patti Hareid, director of community relations for ALMC.

Brian Buhmann, director of human services, said GAMC is a program that gives health care to the “poorest of the poor” and the most needy medically and financially. GAMC is intended for low-income adults between ages 21 to 64 who do not have dependent children under the age of 18. These are adults who do not qualify for federal health programs.

Hareid said ALMC anticipated some kind of change this year and planned for it, so they are prepared. Other programs are available for people who have trouble paying their medical bills. ALMC Care has been available for those not eligible for other government programs. ALMC Care is a financial assistance program, not an insurance program, Hareid said.

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As of April 2009, there were more than 40,000 GAMC cases in Minnesota and 197 of those in Freeborn County, which would affect 201 people.

Buhmann said Minnesota State Sen. Linda Berglind of Hennepin County is a strong supporter of the GAMC, and she’s vowed to work to protect the program. These cuts won’t take effect until July of 2010 for the beginning of the 2011 fiscal year, and there will be a session in 2010 where this decision could be reversed.

Pawlenty can veto the $381 million in funding, but he can’t change the policy and statutes, so the GAMC program will still be in place. People can still apply to the program, even though the funding will not be in place. It’s likely those who applied would be placed on some kind of waiting list, which could possibly be prioritized by those most in need of care first, Buhmann said.

Human Services can still determine if someone is eligible, but they will have to wait until money becomes available or the program is disbanded.

Pawlenty has said many of the people eligible for the GAMC can get assistance through MinnesotaCare, another health insurance program, but Buhmann said there are obstacles. For example, he said there are caps on the number of visits a person can make, and some premiums have to be paid, and Buhmann said some of the people affected may not be able pay that premium.

Buhmann recommended that people contact their local legislators like Rep. Robin Brown and Sen. Dan Sparks if they have concerns or currently use the program.

The program is still operating, and people can still get service from this program.

“We’re kind of in a one year hiatus,” Buhmann said. “So services will still be provided until that time, if they that are cut in July of 2010. So apply. Seek out your medical attention now. But be prepared that in a year’s time, the program could change or be nonexistent.”