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Minnesotans seek Medicaid to continue

Minnesotans in wheel chairs and others who support federal Medicaid funds listen to Lt. Gov. Tina Smith talk about the importance of the money, known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2018. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 4
Darrell Paulsen thanks Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, for signing an order expanding the Medicaid program when he took office in 2011. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 4
Nikki Villavicencio-Tollison talks about how much Medicaid is helping her family, and her fear it could disappear, during a Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, news conference. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 4
Kate Swenson of Cottage Grove, Minn., says on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, that federal Medicaid money allows her autistic son to live a better life. She said she worries that federal health care legislation the Senate is considering may eliminate his care. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 4

ST. PAUL — Kate Swenson says Americans do not understand what Medicaid does.

For her family, "Medicaid means my son can live at home," the Cottage Grove, Minn., said Monday, Sept. 25, as Medicaid advocates gathered in Gov. Mark Dayton's office to say they worry about a Republican-written bill due to come up soon in the U.S. Senate.

"If that goes away, I don't know what we would do," Swenson said. "Public schools cannot serve him. ... If we lost it, my son will regress dramatically."

Medicaid provides a variety of medical and other services to 7-year-old Cooper and other children and adults. The boy has severe non-verbal autism, Swenson said.

Cooper already is the center of the family's attention, and without Medicaid, he would need even more family care, she added.

Known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance, the federal Medicaid program is at the center of discussion about Health Care legislation the U.S. Senate could consider this week. A new Minnesota Human Services study shows it could cost the state $1.9 billion in its first three years.

"Of all the proposals so far to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill is the most extreme," Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said. "It would hurt children, seniors, people with disabilities and low- and middle- income Minnesotans."

Much of the funding that now comes via Medicaid would be converted into block grants to states under the new bill. Democrat Dayton said the block grants would mean far less money to serve about 1 million of the state's 5.5 million people.

The governor said Minnesota lawmakers would need to appropriate more money in coming years if care is to be maintained. "Who knows what our financial position will be?"

Dayton said the latest GOP bill is a "terrible, terrible undertaking. ... It is an abandonment of people who need support."

He said Medicaid helps the young and old, with 43 percent receiving benefits being children and 54 percent of state nursing home costs coming from Medicaid.

Republicans, meanwhile, say the block grant concept gives power to states to determine how best to serve their citizens. Many Republicans say health care costs government pays have soared too much and they want to bring them down.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.