by State Senator Terri Bonoff
This week at the Capitol, committee time was spent reviewing agency budget proposals.
I find this exercise difficult as each part of the budget examined independently does not add up to a whole that is certain. Therefore evaluating individual parts without understanding what our budget constraints are seems as though we listen with one earclosed and a hand behind our back.
Again, I scratch my head at the Governmental process.
I look forward to hearing the February forecast and having the debate with regard to spending targets.
Please join us at one of our two upcoming Town Hall Meetings.
I appreciate getting your e-mails, but, of course, having real conversation provides the greatest opportunity for building meaningful consensus.
In other news, we have been told the public hearings on the potential Hollydale power line will take place March 6 and 7 at the Medina Entertainment Center. As soon as we have more details, we will share.
Last week at the Capitol…
Medical Assistance (MA) Expansion
On Thursday, the Senate passed the Medical Assistance (MA) Expansion bill. This bill expands the number of Minnesotan’s who qualify for Medicaid. This is important because it allows our most vulnerable citizens to have medical coverage in an economically advantageous way.
Previously, many of these people would have been covered under Minnesota Care, meaning that the state was paying for much of their health care costs. Now, the federal government will be paying for most of that share. There were attempts to amend the bill in case the federal support went below 90% in the future.
I did not support the amendments because (1) we can always decide to scale back this program should that happen and (2) we know that having low income people covered ultimately saves the state tremendously and improves the overall health of this population.
In my view, the shared accountability model outlined by the MA Expansion bill is the fiscally and morally responsible choice. I share the public concern over the Federal debt but rejecting this expansion does not lessen the debt. Enacting significant spending and tax reform lessens the debt.
Health Insurance Exchange:
In past Updates, I have mentioned the Health Insurance Exchange bill that has been making it’s way through the legislature. I had previously withheld my commentary because it had not come before me in committee or on the floor.
However, I have been following it closely and will hear it next Tuesday in Finance. While I support this exchange in concept, I see areas of improvement that I think should be addressed before it moves beyond the Senate.
For instance, there is a provision that gives broad authority to a select group of people to decide which providers can offer products inthis Health Care Exchange. It seems to me that a stronger approach would be to enact standard criteria that we expect products and providers to fulfill and then only those that meet the criteria could be included in the Exchange. This would eliminate subjectivity in the process and instead rely on data-driven decision making.
Currently, providers will need to invest a great deal of time and money to comply with the demands of this new marketplace. If they face uncertainty with regard to their acceptance into the marketplace they will be less likely to make this investment. We in Minnesota will only have a high quality exchange if we have high quality providers as participants. First estimates of cost are significantly higher than I had expected. I believe this is in large part because these estimated costs are assuming a much larger participation rate than data would predict.
Yet, by forecasting this large amount we commit to building infrastructure to serve that level. I prefer an approach that estimates conservatively and instead would scale up once the demand is realized.
Finally, in the past decade Minnesota has made tremendous gains in health care reform by gathering all stakeholders together to generate buy in, trust and best practices. The results have been outstanding. This bill precludes providers from having equal input in the exchange design. They are excluded under an assumption of, “a conflict of interest.” I reject that approach. I think the design team must include the checks and balances that come from having each sector equally at the table. I will work to make these changes.
You may hear me express these concerns in future discussions, as sometimes our only avenue for expression is our vote.
This week, I got the opportunity to testify in front of the Transportation committee to make the case for expanding Highway 494 in Plymouth. Joined by Mayor Kelli Slavik and TwinWest Chamber Director, Judy Johnson (as well as Plymouth City Council member), I argued for a permanent fix to the awful congestion plaguing our highway.
For those of you who live in Plymouth or drive through, you are certainly aware that this fix is long overdue. It is important to note that the transportation committee does not determine which road projects are funded. However they do set direction. This decision-making ability is left up to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
Currently, MnDOT has proposed a short-term solution to the problem that would cost $34 million. They propose to use striping andsignage to create a “dynamic shoulder” which would open the shoulder for regular use during peak traffic times. Our proposal provides a long-term fix that expends $50 million. It does not make sense to spend a significant amount of money to get a short term solution when you can solve the problem permanently by paying a relatively small amount more.
While we were in committee listening to overviews by The Minnesota Private Colleges, the Rotunda was crowded with supporters of same-sex marriage. They had a big rally at the Capitol using Valentine's Day as their platform to call for marriage equality. My office has received hundreds of calls and emails from people on both sides of the issue.
The response to our past surveys has been so strong that again I ask for your opinion: Do you favor legalizing same sex marriage?