By Lucinda Jesson
ST. PAUL (July 22, 2013) — This legislative session I traveled from Virginia to Winona to talk about the human services budget. In each city I heard directly from Minnesotans about the real impact programs and services have on their lives. In Duluth I met Stacey, a formerly homeless single mom, and now student, who was able to stay in control of her chronic illness and finances with help from MinnesotaCare. And in Mankato I met Marlys, who with a small house modification and community support, was able to care for her ailing husband in their longtime home.
Innovation in the 2014-2015 human services budget means there will be more stories like theirs for years to come. Through reforms to our health care system, more people will have better care at lower cost. And with smart investments in the safe and healthy development of children and care for our elderly and disabled, people of all ages will have access to the right services at the right time — all within a budget that came in $50 million under forecast and $2 billion less than was projected just prior to Gov. Mark Dayton taking office in 2011.
The budget approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Dayton is a significant step forward for the people of Minnesota.
Some of the biggest wins this year came in health care. By expanding Medical Assistance to more people, streamlining our eligibility processes for public programs and preserving and improving MinnesotaCare, the budget will provide coverage for an estimated 235,000 additional Minnesotans. It also lays the groundwork for a unified health care program that is easier for families to navigate, offers better coverage and is a good deal for Minnesota taxpayers. By taking advantage of opportunities for federal funding, this budget not only covers more people, but will provide savings to the state of $236 million over the four year budget period in our public health care programs.
The budget also saves $25 million by reducing administrative expenses allowed for managed care organizations that operate our public health care programs. Costs such as indirect marketing, penalties and fines, and executive salaries above certain levels will no longer be considered when the department sets health plan capitation rates.
In addition to the Health and Human Services budget, Gov. Dayton and the Legislature passed a bill creating MNSure, a Minnesota-made health insurance exchange that will serve as a one-stop-shop for finding health insurance.
All told, this budget by 2016 will cut Minnesota’s uninsured rate in half to less than 4 percent while making better use of taxpayer dollars.
This year Minnesota also took major steps forward to improve care for seniors and people with disabilities through Reform 2020, the state’s comprehensive long-term care reform initiative. This effort takes Minnesota’s nation-leading long-term care system to the next level by making it more consumer-driven, assisting people in need earlier and emphasizing continued quality enhancements. It also will help guarantee the sustainability of our programs over the long haul by making changes that anticipate the challenges of the coming age wave, and is estimated to save the state $151 million over five years.
We also took strides for children and families by making investments to help kids get off to a great start in life. We increased access to quality child care by incentivizing parents to choose providers that offer a safe, caring environment for children and focus on early education so that kids are ready to learn and succeed when they enter kindergarten. Another important area is children’s mental health, where we doubled the number of schools providing mental health services to students.
Overall, it is an exciting time in health and human services, and this budget makes the most of opportunities for reform. As we see budgets tighten in statehouses and governments across the country we know we must continue to do things smarter here in Minnesota. This budget is testament to the fact that we can provide access and quality services to Minnesotans in need while protecting taxpayer dollars at the same time.
Lucinda Jesson is the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.