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Session 2001: Health and Human Services
By Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
July 2, 2001
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A bill providing $7 billion for health and human services programs passed the House and Senate by wide margins, but the final vote totals don't reflect the contentious negotiations that led to an agreement on the bill. It will have broad implications for how the state treats its most vulnerable residents - the elderly, the sick and the very young.

March 2001 - A Question of Dignity - MPR looks at long-term care

April 3, 2001 - Family-planning providers testify

April 25, 2001 - Abortion provisions separate House, Senate bills

May 8, 2001 - Senate approves health and human services bill

May 11, 2001 - House approves health and human services bill

May 14, 2001 - Rep. Sviggum delays sending HHS bill to governor, where it awaits a certain veto

May 15, 2001 - Gov. Ventura vetoes HHS bill

June 26, 2001 - Gov. Ventura threatens veto of HHS bill if abortion provision remains

June 30, 2001 - Legislature strikes abortion and family-planning language, approves health and human services bill and adjourns

THE HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES FUNDING BILL will have a huge impact on nursing homes in the state. Advocates for long-term care pushed state lawmakers to dramatically increase funding for nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and home health-care agencies.

The final bill provides $110 million for a six-percent cost-of-living increase for nursing homes over the next two years. Rick Carter, with CareProviders of Minnesota, says while the bill includes a raise for long-term care workers, its major goal is to expand programs that keep the elderly in their own homes and out of more expensive nursing facilities.

"Nursing homes will be used more and more for rehabilitation for that short-term, long-term care. But the long-term long-term care stay is probably for the most part a thing of the past. Yes, we'll still have some very sick people who we'll care for two or three years, but they'll become a thing of the past," Carter says.

The bill also provides benefits for the very young. It expands the taxpayer-funded children's health insurance program to add 20,000 of 45,000 children who are currently uninsured.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says the state will cover more children whose parents are working full time, but don't make enough money to afford health insurance.

"It's not just a matter of expanding eligibility, although it does do that. It's also going to make the coverage system simpler and as a result of that more kids are not only going to get enrolled, but stay enrolled in health insurance for a longer period of time. We know that matters a lot to actual improvements to their health status," Malcolm says.

The bill also revisits welfare reform. About 5,000 families were facing the end of welfare next summer as they reached a five-year lifetime limit on benefits. Under the new bill, at least half of those who were scheduled to be kicked off the program will keep receiving money if they work at least 25 hours a week and meet other state requirements.

Some of the most contentious items of debate during the crafting of the bill were left out of the final version. House Republicans had pushed anti-abortion measures, including a 24-hour waiting period, and a ban on state money for family-planning services that provided or discussed abortions with their clients.

Senate DFL leaders and Gov. Ventura opposed the provisions and killed them. But anti-abortion forces say they're satisfied they could stop new investment in family planning issues.

Minnesota Citizen's Concerned for Life Vice President Marice Rosenberg says her group was able to keep new money from going to family-planning programs and to force the governor to drop a new teen-pregnancy prevention program.

"We believe that the days are over that the abortion industry can come to the Capitol for a hand out and that's how we viewed it and we were able to defeat that," Rosenberg says.

Rosenberg says MCCL will be back next year pushing the same issues again.