Reform to GAMC has been overdue

Published 8:35 am Wednesday, June 16, 2010

After months of work to “save GAMC,” many politicians now propose we abandon the new General Assistance Medical Care program in favor of expanding Medicaid (MA) and rushing to adopt the controversial federal health care bill. As they use questionable figures to paint it as a “strong investment,” the reality is that the proposed expansion is costly and would derail an innovative, Minnesota-made bipartisan reform.

The Cost. MA is a “matched cost” program. As such, we would have to spend state money to get money from Washington (something some lawmakers consider free).  The reality is that the MA expansion would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars through 2014. With a $6 billion deficit looming next year, that’s money we don’t have.

The dollars would have to come from somewhere.  There is no free lunch, and we will have to face this fact sooner or later. To expect that the MA expansion can actually be paid for without asking more of taxpayers—or sacrificing other core programs and commitments—is unrealistic. Costs will shift from the federal government to the state governments, and eventually land on the taxpayers and private insurance policy holders already struggling to find economic recovery.

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Undoing Reform. With bipartisan work on the GAMC program, we developed nation-leading reform solutions right here in Minnesota.

Under the new initiative, the low-income, chronically-ill population it serves will for the first time have coordinated care with an emphasis on prevention. By contrast, under the proposed MA expansion, patient-specific programming would be replaced with the previous ineffective and expensive system. Costs would again go through the roof and quality would suffer.

The GAMC reform also gives hospitals the incentive to make sure that if a patient is eligible for a different program, that’s where he or she will go. Duplicative, overlapping government programming is one of the reasons spending is growing out of control. This reform helps eliminate that in the health care sector.

Instead of looking for what’s wrong with the new GAMC and casting out reform in favor of the old, we must look for what’s right and give the GAMC reform a chance to work. Learning how to coordinate care and better treat Minnesotans is in everyone’s best interest.

With massive deficits facing our state as far as the eye can see, we have no choice but to contain our state health program costs while improving quality. But like any challenge, this one is also an opportunity. Instead of undoing reform and opting-in to an expensive federal program, the time is now to continue Minnesota’s leadership in health care reform and deliver the positive results our citizens deserve.

Jim Abeler

state representative

District 48B