State leaders have many difficult budget decisions ahead of us in the next four weeks. The choices we make will impact our schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and local funding for essential services such as parks, roads and public safety. Most of all, these decisions will impact the people of our district.
Over the Easter break, I met with Tom Prusak from St. Joseph's Medical Center, as well as other health care officials from the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center. They are truly alarmed by the cuts to hospitals that are being proposed this session. The most harmful are included in the governor's budget, which will cut funding for St. Joseph's by almost $9.5 million over the next two years; the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center will lose $4.7 million. This includes indirect cuts, such as eliminating MinnesotaCare for over 100,000 adults, and direct cuts, including a 3 percent reduction in Medicaid payments, delaying payments, and eliminating Medicaid quarterly payments, among others. Cuts to our state Medical Assistance program are especially destructive because the hospitals will also lose the dollar-for-dollar federal match. You might ask, what do these cuts have to do with me? Don't hospitals make enough money so they can tighten their belts enough to withstand these cuts? Even if that was true in the past, it is clearly not true today. Often over the past few years, the health care industry has been targeted for significant cuts. In addition, as Minnesotans lose their health insurance, whether through the loss of a job or being cut from MinnesotaCare, the amount of uncompensated care hospitals provide - usually through the emergency room - has escalated dramatically. Like it or not, these unpaid expenses need to be recouped somehow, leading medical facilities to raise their prices. In other words, all of us pay.
A bigger impact on citizens, however, will be if the reliable and thorough health care we all depend on goes away. The cuts being proposed this year will close hospitals across the state, and cause others to eliminate programs and services. Imagine for a moment what life would be like if St. Joseph's or the Cuyuna Regional Center were to close, or even if they were forced to end services some of us depend on. These choices could be a matter of life or death for many people, and at the very least, make health care for the rest of us more inconvenient and expensive.
We also need to consider what these cuts will do to the staff who work there, and our communities. Over one thousand people work at St. Joseph's, about 350 more work at the Cuyuna Regional Center. At a time when unemployment is at its highest level since 1983, our local economy cannot afford additional layoffs - not to mention the harm done to the individuals and their families who could lose their jobs.
This recession will end, and when it does, we need our critical health care institutions to be intact. We cannot afford to balance our state budget on the backs of patients, seniors, families and local health care providers.
REP. JOHN WARD, DFL-Brainerd, represents Minnesota House District 12A.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.