VIEWPOINT: Lohmer support for Health and Human Services bill violates campaign promisesOver the last decade, growth in state spending beyond the rate of inflation has been entirely driven by increases in health and human services spending.
By: Julie Bunn, Woodbury Bulletin
Over the last decade, growth in state spending beyond the rate of inflation has been entirely driven by increases in health and human services spending. All other portions of the budget have remained flat or declined in real terms. Health and human services spending increases are mostly due to the growing disabled, low income elderly, and low income mothers with children population, and in increases in underlying health-care costs.
On top of these demographic and health-care cost challenges, we are now emerging from a great recession that has reduced state revenues.
During my time in the Legislature, I worked on real solutions to the budget crisis. First, I championed evidence-based, cost reducing and quality enhancing health-care reforms to decelerate the rising costs of health-care in Minnesota. Second, I successfully passed initiatives to trim program costs while retaining essential services. Non-partisan fiscal analysis estimated the first initiatives would take 12 percent off trend for health care costs over the next decade, while the second would save tens of millions of dollars. I also supported initiatives to increase accountability and reduce potential for fraud in delivery of these services.
Last fall, during her campaign for state representative, Kathy Lohmer stated that she was running to reduce taxes and cut spending; she also said in numerous forums that she did not support cuts to K12 education, the disabled, the elderly, or the truly needy. She has now voted for cuts to those groups. Moreover, she is supporting an approach to the budget process that ignores both the need for non-partisan fiscal analysis and the requirements of federal law.
Rep. Lohmer’s actions are indefensible. First, she misled the public in order to get elected. Given the magnitude of the impending budget deficit, and the large share of the general fund budget represented by spending on the elderly, disabled, and low income children (30 percent), not to mention K12 (another 40 percent), it was disingenuous to state they would be excluded from budget cuts. Second, her support for the HHS Omnibus Finance bill indicates she is willing to make these cuts disproportionately on the backs of the elderly, disabled and low income adults and children accessing health and long-term-care services.
In voting for the House bill, Lohmer supports
• an almost $400 million dollar cut to home-based services for the disabled under waiver programs, forcing many (perhaps over 800) into institutionalized settings,
• changes to programs for adults earning less than $8,000 and low income working adults and families that would lead to over 100,000 Minnesotans losing health-care coverage, and
• by booking $300 million in savings from a federal waiver for the Medical Assistance program that is unlikely to ever materialize, requiring severe payment reductions to basic medical services, nursing homes and/or home and community based services (7 to 12 percent, depending on whether rates were cut to one or more categories) for the poor, disabled and elderly.
Lohmer’s touting of her HHS omnibus bill support and her opposition to cooperation with any federal health care reform initiatives (see votes on bill, and House floor speech April 6, 2011) are all the more ironic in that the Minnesota reforms and innovations that are used by leadership as justification for why our state should go it alone are gutted in the HHS Omnibus Finance bill that she supports. Several of the data collection and public health initiatives underpinning the reforms are eliminated.
With respect to either the overall budget, or Minnesota self-determination on health-care policy, one cannot have it both ways.
One cannot argue for Minnesota as a model of innovation in health-care reform as a reason for withdrawing from federal programs or attempting to circumvent federal law and then pass legislation to gut those same home-grown reforms. And one cannot promote disingenuous magical thinking during elections – smaller government but no cuts to children, the elderly or disabled, and become an effective trusted leader.
But then perhaps one can; that is up to you, the voters, to decide.
Julie Bunn, Lake Elmo, former State Representative 56A, is an economist and policy consultant. She can be reached at Julie@juliebunn.com.