Farmers and other rural residents traveled to the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday to call on lawmakers to preserve a major source of funding for health care programs in the state. Since 1992, stable funding for public health care programs and public health initiatives in Minnesota has come from a small tax paid by health care providers. However, unless Minnesota legislators take action this year to save it, the Health Care Access Fund will be eliminated by the end of December, creating a hole in the state budget of roughly $700 million annually.
“At a time when farmers are struggling significantly because of lower farm prices, this is not the time to cut funding for health care safety-net programs,” said Land Stewardship Project (LSP) member Sylvia Luetmer of Alexandria, Minn. “We need rural health care facilities to remain open and available.”
Luetmer was one of a cross-section of Minnesotans who gathered in the Capitol Rotunda for a Sunshine Rally to stop the sun setting of the provider tax. Hosted by This Is Medicaid and other health care advocates, the rally featured several speakers talking about why the Health Care Access Fund is such an important investment in providing quality, affordable health care to Minnesotans, including farmers, small-business owners and other self-employed residents who reside in rural parts of the state. Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan were among the elected officials who spoke in strong support of keeping the provider tax in place.
Minnesota’s Health Care Access Fund is used to fund public health programs and health care for one million Minnesotans enrolled in Medicaid and MinnesotaCare. This money comes from a two-percent tax paid by health care providers, a formula which has been in place since 1992, when it was created with bipartisan leadership and signed into law by Governor Arne Carlson. But as part of a deal to end the 2011 state government shutdown, Republican leadership of the Minnesota House and Senate struck an agreement with Governor Mark Dayton to set a December 2019 sunset date on the provider tax.
“We know many Minnesotans, especially in rural areas, are facing a crisis of lack of affordable health care coverage and lack of care available close to home,” said Franklin, Minn., dairy farmer and LSP member James Kanne. “Unfortunately, some legislators are now trying to misrepresent what the provider tax is and what continuing it would mean. Legislators should be working to solve these problems instead of taking us backwards with a massive cut to the health care budget. We can and should be a state that invests in meeting everyone’s needs.”
In recent days, lawmakers have been holding hearings on the health care provider tax and on parts of Governor Walz’s budget proposal on health care. LSP member and physician Dr. Aleta Borrud of Rochester, Minn., testified on the governor’s proposed ONECare public health insurance option before the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester. ONECare would offer a platinum-level health insurance plan at 90-percent actuarial value with a benefit set and wide network of providers similar to MinnesotaCare.
“In the hospital, I cared for many farmers who presented with advanced disease because they couldn’t afford their high deductibles or they couldn’t access care locally due to restrictive provider networks,” Borrud said. “These problems in the individual market would be improved with a public insurance program, ONECare.”
“We need to make sure we keep the provider tax strong in order to continue investing this public money for the public good and expanding health care for Minnesotans,” said LSP member Al Kruse of Marshall, Minn.