Health and human services budget asks vulnerable Minnesotans to pay a price

Many of Minnesota’s most vulnerable populations, including the elderly, those with disabilities, and low-income families with children, are being asked to help balance the state’s budget through $1 billion in cuts to health and human services in the final budget approved by Governor Dayton and the Legislature. This is an eight percent cut in FY 2012-13 compared to base funding, which means a reduction from current levels of service.

While some of the most troubling proposals, including those that would have caused more than 100,000 Minnesotans to lose their current health care coverage, did not make it into the final legislation, the health and human services bill still contains provisions that will increase barriers for low-income families trying to work, for the elderly and people with disabilities who want to stay in their homes, and for Minnesotans trying to access health care.

As a result of the final budget, working parents and other low-income Minnesotans will face challenges in building a more secure economic future. For example:

  • Access to quality, affordable child care will become more difficult for working parents. In the budget, provider reimbursement rates are reduced, flexibility for families is limited, and grants supporting system improvements and parental information are cut. The budget agreement also captures $5 million in child care assistance funds that were not spent in calendar year 2010 and transfers them back to the general fund. These resources could have been used to help 500 additional families in 2012.
  • Low-income individuals will find it more difficult to obtain post-secondary education, purchase a home or start a new business. The decision to eliminate Family Assets for Independent in Minnesota (FAIM) means they will lose both the state and federal match on their savings.
  • Funds intended to support families seeking to stabilize their lives, find employment and become self-sufficient are instead used to help balance the state’s budget, including $20 million from the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) Consolidated Fund and $38 million in federal funds for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The final budget will also make it harder for people with disabilities and the elderly to access the services they need to remain independent. For example:

  • There will be additional limits on the number of individuals who can enroll in waiver programs that enable the elderly and people with disabilities to access community-based care and avoid entering an institution. Cuts to these waiver programs total $64 million in FY 2012-13.
  • People with disabilities who rely on a relative to provide their care may find it harder to get the assistance they need. The bill cuts payments to these Personal Care Attendants by 20 percent, creating financial challenges for these families. This cut particularly raises concerns for people with disabilities in rural areas, where relative caregivers are often the only option.
  • Some funding cuts do not fall on individuals directly, but will reduce funding for the institutions and community-based providers they rely on. These decisions could hurt the financial stability of these providers, raising concerns about whether some of them will be able to continue to serve their community. For example, there are more than $70 million in cuts to various payment rates for a variety of community-based providers and continuing care facilities that serve the elderly and individuals with disabilities. And, although nursing homes are exempt from most immediate payment rate cuts (a few will even get a small rate increase), the bill eliminates a scheduled $133 million increase in reimbursement rates in FY 2014-15. This planned “rebasing” would have re-evaluated the state’s current reimbursement rate to bring it in line with the cost of providing care.

There is some positive news: the final budget keeps intact Medical Assistance for extremely low-income adults, a health care reform that was approved by Governor Dayton in January. This preserves access to health care for tens of thousands of vulnerable Minnesotans. However, other changes in health care programs will increase the barriers to accessing health care for some individuals. For example:

  • Approximately 7,200 adults without children who are between 200 and 250 percent of poverty (that’s an income between $21,780 and $27,225 for a single adult), will lose their health insurance under MinnesotaCare and be given a subsidy to buy coverage in the private market. It remains to be seen whether affordable coverage options exist in the current insurance market. The bill seeks federal permission to expand this Healthy Minnesota Contribution Program to include parents on MinnesotaCare.
  • Access to health care, particularly in rural areas, could become more challenging. Hospitals face the loss of an anticipated $106 million increase in reimbursement rates in FY 2012-13 and another $491 million in FY 2014-15. As with nursing homes, the bill cuts a planned re-evaluation of payment rates intended to increase the rate to better represent the cost of providing care.
  • Children and adults facing mental health issues will find some funding to counties for mental health services has dried up. The bill cuts Children and Community Services Act grants by 17 percent. The act is renamed the Vulnerable Children and Adults Act and the remaining funds will be used for child protection and to protect vulnerable adults. It will no longer fund mental health services for adults and children.

In some areas, the impact of the budget decisions are harder to predict. For example:

  • The agreement eliminates the MinnesotaCare provider tax beginning in 2020. This tax on health care services is one of the major funding sources for the Health Care Access Fund (HCAF), which in turn funds MinnesotaCare and other health-related grants and services. This significant source of health care funding (projected to raise more than $1 billion in revenue in FY 2012-13) would be eliminated without any specific plan for how to continue funding these important public health functions.
  • There are about $400 million in general fund savings from managed care reforms, including rate reductions, efforts to reduce hospital admissions/re-admissions and emergency room usage, and competitive bidding. The estimated savings associated with these reforms grows to $540 million in FY 2014-15. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear how these savings goals will be achieved, or what will happen if the actual savings falls short of what is anticipated.

We couldn’t possibly touch on all the important changes included in the health and human services budget in this blog. We will be releasing a more comprehensive analysis of the budget agreement in the coming days.

In the meantime, for more information on how Minnesotans will be impacted by the health and human services budget, check out analysis by the Affirmative Options Coalition, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota, Child Care WORKS and the Arc of Minnesota

-Christina Wessel


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