House, Senate committee budgets do not include Pawlenty’s MERC cuts

The program that funds University of Minnesota student, resident education in health facilities may be spared cuts.

Tara Bannow

The state Legislature expressed its opposition to Gov. Tim Pawlenty âÄôs proposal to cut Medical Education and Research Costs , a program that supports University of Minnesota student and resident education in hospitals and clinics. The House and Senate Health and Human Services Finance Divisions introduced budgets this week that do not include PawlentyâÄôs recommended nearly 83 percent reduction in funding for the program. âÄúThis is a very important time to make sure that we continue the resources we need to train physicians and other medical professionals with health care reform being phased in,âÄù Sen. Linda Berglin , DFL-Minneapolis, said. Overall, health providers would have lost about $50 million to take on students and residents under the governorâÄôs proposed budget, including the federal match to the programâÄôs state funding. âÄúI think the Legislature recognizes the importance of these funds,âÄù said Jeff Ogden , chief administrative officer of the School of Dentistry and MERC committee member . âÄúThese are integral to our being able to educate the most basic medical professionals.âÄù The cuts would have potentially forced the Dental School to close its clinics in Hibbing and Willmar, where 80 to 90 percent of patients rely on public assistance programs, Ogden said. âÄúThey have to be supported by external funding over and above clinic revenues,âÄù he said. âÄúThatâÄôs logical because those areas are widely designated as underserved for dental care.âÄù The House and Senate will now finalize their versions of the budget, deliberate a compromise and send the bill to Pawlenty, who could still veto the budget. For those concerned about MERC, the news renders them âÄústill cautious but maybe not as nervous as we were,âÄù said Marty McDonough , the UniversityâÄôs assistant director of government relations. âÄúItâÄôll be a pretty intense two weeks of negotiating with the governorâÄôs office,âÄù he said, âÄúbut I think weâÄôre in a much better position than we were with only the governorâÄôs recommendations out there.âÄù The Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division introduced its initial budget spreadsheet Thursday morning, and will introduce the actual legislation to the public on Monday. Following a hearing at the Health and Human Services Budget Division , the plan will go to Senate Finance Committee and then to the full Senate for consideration. In the House, the bill will go before the Ways and Means Committee early next week. MERC is a broad-based program that includes an array of hospitals and health-related schools at the University and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities , Ogden said. The program is âÄúdirectly applicable to addressing the needs of Minnesotans in this area,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs such a direct relationship, and I think the legislators understand that.âÄù