Democratic lawmakers said Thursday they hoped to save Minnesota's General Assistance Medical Care program, continuing coverage for about 35,000 low-income adults after state funding runs out in March.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration already plans to switch patients into another subsidized program, MinnesotaCare. But MinnesotaCare has limited coverage of hospital stays and requires patients to stay abreast of premiums and paperwork, prompting state officials to predict that as many as 13,000 will drop coverage within a year.
Democrats also contend the switch will add to a projected $1.2 billion state deficit by draining a special fund tied to MinnesotaCare.
Their plan instead would tap the federal government, hospitals, health maintenance organizations and counties to keep a bare-bones version of General Assistance Medical Care going through June 2011. They are banking on a federal health care overhaul picking up coverage of the patients sometime after that.
"It is not an ideal proposal, but it puts real money into this program to continue it over the next 16 months," said Sen. Linda Berglin, who oversees state health and welfare spending.
Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth said the plan would shave $159 million from the budget shortfall.
Pawlenty said he has doubts about the financing aspects of the proposal, which would restore $292 million of nearly $400 million in cuts he made to General Assistance Medical Care.
"We'll reserve final judgment on it until we get a closer look at it," Pawlenty said.
The proposal would raise surcharges on hospitals, HMOs and health care networks. It would drop patients who are eligible for coverage under other programs, including pregnant women, state prisoners and county jail inmates.
Hospitals would get only half of what the state now pays them to treat patients covered by General Assistance Medical Care.
But prescription drug coverage would continue, with no co-payments for anti-psychotic drugs. A good share of the program's patients have mental illnesses.
Republican Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood said he is concerned about new burdens on hospitals but called the plan a good start.
One of the state's biggest hospitals, Regions Hospital in St. Paul, issued a statement saying, "The most important thing is to find a proposal to fix the GAMC veto that can be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in the first days of session."
Huntley said Democrats aim to hash out details in the coming weeks with Republicans and Pawlenty's administration. He said they want to pass legislation immediately after the session starts in February.
Associated Press Writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.