HCMC fights back against Pawlenty’s GAMC cuts

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of General Assistance Medical Care will make up $43 million of the hospital’s predicted losses for 2010 and $50 million in 2011.

by Jessica Van Berkel

Minnesota legislators and Hennepin County Medical Center officials said cuts to the hospital budget could have a dangerous âÄúripple effectâÄù across Minnesota, with more cuts anticipated under the stateâÄôs projected $1.2 billion budget shortfall. Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs veto of General Assistance Medical Care, which covered hospital costs for Minnesotans making under $8,000 annually, will make up $43 million of the hospitalâÄôs predicted losses for 2010 and $50 million in 2011. The impact that losing GAMC on March 1 would have on HCMC and Minnesota was addressed Wednesday at a forum at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, attended by HCMC CEO Art Gonzalez. This discussion of HCMC cuts was one of many going on across the state and online with the creation of the hospitalâÄôs âÄúWill You Lose?âÄù Web site. The site outlines what programs could be affected by cuts and has related Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages, which were launched Nov. 20. The Facebook page has about 750 fans, and the Twitter page has 125 followers. The âÄúWill You Lose?âÄù site has had about 2,300 unique visitors. âÄúWe havenâÄôt really done much external publicity in this first week, so itâÄôs people finding us,âÄù said Tom Hayes, an HCMC spokesman who helped create the Web site. The interest in HCMC and GAMC is of wide concern because it will impact other programs as well, Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said. âÄúPeople are feeling it pretty closely,âÄù Hayden said. With one in four people in the state living in Hennepin County, he said he thought that âÄúeverybody cannot help but to be concerned.âÄù âÄúThis isnâÄôt good for Minnesota … when the county has to start laying off child protection workers, when they have to start laying off essential services in order to pay for the anticipated hole that GAMC has made,âÄù Hayden said. HCMC is just one of many agencies and programs that are looking at the state and city budgets coming out and saying toconstituents, âÄúhey, hereâÄôs what you arenâÄôt going to get,âÄù Hayden said. But for GAMC, a lot of the cuts will hurt people âÄúwho donâÄôt have a lot of power and a lot of voice,âÄù Hayden said. In 2009, GAMC has had an average of 30,400 people enrolled in the program each month, Karen Smigielski, spokeswoman at the Department of Human Services, said. Many GAMC recipients are families in crisis, seniors dependent on the service and people with chronic mental health issues who donâÄôt have the loud advocacy âÄúto scream and holler,âÄù Hayden said. âÄúBut theyâÄôre starting to get there.âÄù The site encourages people to contact legislators, who will discuss the issue in February and âÄúdemand alternate funding.âÄù On Nov. 18, 200 protesters lined up in front of HCMC forming a âÄúnever-ending emergency room lineâÄù to show what would happen if GAMC is lost, said AFSCME Council 5 Public Affairs Director Jennifer Munt. âÄúIf 35,000 more people become uninsured, there is a ripple effect,âÄù Hayes said. On top of GAMC losses, HCMC suffered $12 million in unallotment cuts in 2008. Rep. Bruce Anderson, R-Buffalo Township, said the need for unallotments and cuts came from the inability of the Democratic majority in the house to bring forward a budget Pawlenty could sign. âÄúThis wouldnâÄôt have happened if they had taken some leadership and passed a balanced budget,âÄù he said. Pawlenty announced that people previously enrolled in GAMC would be autoenrolled in MinnesotaCare, but Hayes said this is only a âÄúone-time fix.âÄù Munt said the proposal is a âÄúformula for bankruptcy.âÄù Health care is the main cost driver for counties, cities and the state, Pawlenty said Wednesday at a press conference for the economic forecast. Publicly subsidized health care programs in particular are âÄúin dire need of reform,âÄù Pawlenty said. âÄúThe GAMC issue is just one step, or one piece, of a much larger picture,âÄù he said.