ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Legislation adding more than 35,000 people to government-subsidized health insurance rolls in Minnesota reached Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday after the state Senate signed off.
By a 45-22 bipartisan vote, the Democratic-led Senate approved a Medicaid expansion that has proven controversial in other parts of the country. As part of the nation's new health care law, the federal government has promised to pay the full bill for the extra enrollees for the next few years. The state would assume 10 percent of the cost by 2020.
Just Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declined the federal offer. He and other Republicans have questioned whether it is sustainable and cringed at the idea of ceding more control to Washington. But Dayton, a Democrat, supports the expansion plan.
The change actually affects 87,000 low-income people because some participants in another state insurance program — the premium-based MinnesotaCare — would be shifted to the more generous plan. Medical Assistance is the Minnesota version of Medicaid in which enrollees pay no premiums.
Democrats argued it was too good of a deal to pass up, citing projections that it would mean $1 billion more for the state by 2016. The expansion mostly involves childless adults living at or near the poverty line.
"We're saying yes in a deliberate way to the invitation from the federal government," said Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato.
She and other supporters said the move provides health insurance to people who are ringing up costs anyway. When those uninsured people get sick now, they often head to hospital emergency rooms that can't turn away patients but have little chance of collecting payment. "Every day we participate in this project we'll be saving the taxpayers a great deal of money," Sheran said.
But Republicans said the federal government's shaky finances make it a big risk. They said the promise of full payment could be yanked back at any time, shifting the bill back to the state. GOP efforts to make participation contingent on the federal government upholding its end of the deal were turned back.
"We will continue to follow this trail of crumbs until we fall over the cliff," said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes.
Democrats countered that Minnesota taxpayers send more money to the federal government than they get back so any additional dollars are worth it.