Health centers’ funding falls short

Sean Madigan

With a beefy tax surplus, the windfall from a $6.1 billion tobacco settlement and a third-party governor, the 1999 state legislative session proved to be one of the strangest in years.
And not everybody is completely satisfied with the results.
Officials at the University’s Academic Health Center say they did not receive enough money to carry out their programs.
In the next few days, Gov. Jesse Ventura will sign the health and human services bill, giving the interest from $377 million of the $968 million tobacco endowment to public health programs. The University’s Academic Health Center and the Medical Education Research Costs program will split the interest generated by the endowment.
The health center will receive 70 percent of the endowment interest the first year and 49 percent the second year, reaping $16 million over the next two years — well below the biennial request of $37 million.
“We are grateful to the Legislature, but this doesn’t do it for us,” said Chris Roberts, a spokeswoman for the AHC. “We asked for $37 million, not because it’s a nice number, but because that’s what we really need.”
Garnering less than half of the money it requested, the AHC will not be able to implement its whole program for health professional education, said Frank Cerra, the Academic Health Center’s senior vice president.
“We have now begun the process of determining what we will be able to implement,” Cerra said. He added that the process will take several weeks.
Cerra said the AHC’s top priorities remain intact: interdisciplinary, community-based education and paying doctors for teaching work.
Even though the level of funding for the health center is less than officials hoped, Marty McDonough, legislative relations coordinator in the University’s government relations office, considers the funding a success.
“If people didn’t pay attention all session and saw what we got they wouldn’t be happy,” McDonough said. “But having been there every day, this is as good as we were going to come.” At one period in the session the Senate had allotted just $1 million for the AHC.
This is the first year the AHC has been funded through an endowment. It years past, the center received appropriations from the state’s general fund.
Despite the allocated funding for the AHC, Cerra said the MERC program stands to benefit from the endowment.
The MERC program channels money through the Minnesota Department of Health to teaching hospitals to pay residents. The AHC will indirectly benefit from the program because its residents are paid through teaching hospitals.
Funding for MERC will help sustain a void in federal funding resulting from a 1997 freeze on government aid to teaching hospitals. Throughout the life of the endowment, money for MERC will total almost $100 million.