Minnesotans seek Medicaid to continue

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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.