A Head Start to the 2010 Legislative Session

The 2010 Legislative Session has not formally opened, but action is already heating up. Yesterday, Sen. Linda Berglin and Reps. Erin Murphy and Tom Huntley set forth a proposal to help save General Assistance Medical Care. The event has been widely reported, including at MinnPost , the Star Tribune, and the PioneerPress.

As you may be aware, funding for GAMC was cut by Gov. Pawlenty through the un-allotment process. This program has helped Minnesotans who lack the means to pay for necessary medical care, but are not eligible for federal relief. Currently, the Governor has proposed transitioning GAMC recipients to Minnesota Care, but this falls short for several reasons. Low income patients are unlikely to be able to pay the premiums, and the Health Care Access Fund that supports MN CARE is already facing budget shortfalls.

With a mix of funding sources, the new plan for GAMC seeks to restore coverage to those who would have no other options, encourage transition to federal assistance for those who are eligible, and share the costs of this care in a fair manner. Federal funds, county contributions, and a surcharge on providers would all contribute, and the plan is currently tax neutral, an important compromise to the Govenor’s stated position on health care.

This proposal recognizes the unique health care needs of persons with mental illnesses. There are provisions for better urgently required care to avoid hospitalization, and payments for medication. This is what we’ve always known. We need better access to timely care and ongoing support. The alternative is waiting until a person is in even further crisis.

As the plan authors note, the federal proposals currently in discussion would likely solve these issues in the future by expanding federal Medical Assistance. But until then, we need to find real solutions for the populations served by GAMC. Cutting people off from necessary care and unleashing a wave of uncompensated care on hospitals and counties is the worst case scenario.

It’s likely that many proposals on this issue will emerge in this session and much will change before anything is signed into law, but at the Mental Health Association, we are pressing for stable sources of care for persons with mental illnesses, and cost cutting that focuses on preventive care, not slashing services.

Please contact your legislators today, and make sure that they know your priorities going into the 2010 legislative session. Minnesota needs GAMC. The cost of inaction is just too high.

Stay up to date with the issues with MHAM Public Policy Alerts. In the coming weeks, look for information on the critical issues for 2010, including more on GAMC, Personal Care Assistance, changes to State Operated Services, Maintenance of Effort Agreements, and the Acute Care Needs Report.

(This post was originally sent to our Public Policy Alerts email list. Sign up through MyMHAM to stay up to date with developments affecting persons with mental illnesses in Minnesota.)