Health care program for poor is in critical condition

| August 17, 2010 | 0 Comments

StethoscopeLast spring, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and state lawmakers announced they had reached a deal on a money-saving plan to salvage General Assistance Medical Care so the state’s poorest residents could still receive health care coverage.

Now, two and a half months into the new program, it is clear the plan is inadequate and that many of the 30,000 adults it is intended to serve — including the homeless and those who suffer from mental illness and chemical dependency — are falling through the cracks.

Limited options

Only four hospitals in the state — all of them in the Twin Cities metro area — signed up to participate in the new program as Coordinated Care Delivery Systems, which operate with about one-third of the funding that was formerly allocated to the GAMC program.

One of the hospitals, however, recently announced it has reached its enrollment limit, and two more are expected to reach their limits in the next several weeks. That will leave only one hospital — Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis — enrolling new patients.

That will leave thousands of GAMC patients around the state without a place to go. They will then have only two options: walking into a local hospital’s emergency room, where the cost of care is much higher, or finding a clinic that provides charity care, which will put added financial pressure on already strained budgets.

When the Legislature was debating the fate of the GAMC program, Minnesota’s bishops weighed in with a letter reminding lawmakers that affordable health care that protects and supports the life, dignity and health of all people — including the poor — is a matter of justice.

They advocated for a reformed GAMC program that would continue to help those in greatest need. “When we deny health care for any human person, we ignore their human dignity,” they wrote in February. “And when we ignore their human dignity, we fail to recognize and value human life itself.”

Fix needed

Clearly, the new state health care program for the poorest of the poor is inadequate. It is not meeting basic needs in far too many cases, it is under-funded and, as a result, it puts lives at risk.

There are no easy answers about how to fix the program at a time when the state faces a difficult budget situation. But there is no denying that it must be fixed and that failure to do so will continue to hurt the poor and put a heavy burden on hospitals and clinics. As Minnesota prepares to elect a new governor and a slate of state lawmakers, voters have an excellent opportunity to press for changes in the program during the next legislative session.

Blessed Mother Teresa, whose relics were recently on display at the Cathedral of St. Paul, once said about the poor: “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.” In other words, we should treat the poor as we would treat Jesus himself.

As things currently stand, we’re not doing a very good job.

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Category: Editorials