Minn. GOP aims to cut senior services, health care

Published 5:21 pm Monday, March 21, 2011

ST. PAUL — A House GOP health and welfare bill unveiled Monday would slash spending on home care and other services for seniors and disabled people, eliminate MinnesotaCare health care for 7,200 working adults and ask the federal government for permission to cut the much larger Medicaid health plan for the poor.

The proposed cuts for the second-biggest piece of the budget emerged as Republicans who run the Legislature parceled out budget bills for various spending areas. They are fashioning an alternative to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s plan to raise high-end income and property taxes to erase a projected $5 billion deficit over the next two years.

Top House Republicans on health and human services issues said the plan would reduce projected spending on health and welfare programs by $1.6 billion. They said current spending levels are unsustainable.

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“We have to start doing things better so that we can keep the promises we’re making instead of making promises we can’t keep with money we don’t have,” said House Health and Human Services Reform Committee Chairman Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud. “We’ve been doing that for too long. It’s not getting us anywhere.”

Another piece of the House budget — for state agencies — includes a 15 percent reduction in the state work force by 2015, a pay freeze for state employees through July 2013 and a plan to block raises for state workers unless they pass a performance evaluation.

A Senate panel was poring over a K-12 schools budget proposal on Monday afternoon.

The bills are a starting point for end-of-session budget talks. None are likely to become law as proposed because of Dayton’s veto power. There are also differences between the House and Senate budget plans that will be hashed out in conference committees.

The House health bill would cut almost $500 million from services such as home health aides and home-delivered meals intended to keep elderly and disabled people out of nursing home care, though House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said the number is likely to shift as the bill goes through the committee process this week.

Another $300 million in cuts would penalize the least efficient medical providers. The bill also banks $300 million in Medicaid cuts, based on the assumption that the federal government would approve a waiver allowing the state to reduce spending on the program.

MinnesotaCare would disappear for childless adults who make more than about $22,000 a year. For those making between about $15,000 and $22,000, the program would turn into a sliding-scale subsidy to buy private health insurance.

The House bill doesn’t touch a Medicaid expansion Dayton ordered for almost 100,000 vulnerable adults or attempt to block Minnesota’s participation in the federal health care overhaul.

Democrats slammed the proposal, saying Republicans are going after the vulnerable to protect the wealthy from tax increases.

“They’re cutting seniors and the disabled and kids by immense amounts,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

The House state government bill prescribes $95 million in spending reductions for state departments. It also creates a sunset commission to look at abolishing state agencies and eliminates a layer of political appointees in state agencies.