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The House passed a health and human services finance bill that reduces anticipated spending by $50 million on a 73-61 party line vote on Friday night. The legislation, which includes a 5 percent rate increase for nursing homes, is now headed to the Senate.

House passes HHS finance bill on party line vote

Rep. Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth) (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The House passed a health and human services finance bill that reduces anticipated spending by $50 million on a 73-61 party line vote on Friday night. The legislation, which includes a 5 percent rate increase for nursing homes,  is now headed to the Senate.

“You cannot turn and snub your nose at a 5 percent rate increase for our nursing home workers,” said Rep. Patti Fritz, DFL-Faribault, during the roughly two hour floor debate. “This is a good deal. This is a step in the right direction.”

Health and human services represents the second largest and fastest growing portion of the budget. It was originally targeted for roughly $150 million in cuts in both the House and Senate budget proposals, but that figure was scaled back to $50 million when final budget targets were released.

DFLers helped blunt the pain of cuts by taking $76 million in one time money obtained by requiring hospitals and health plans to pay 12 months worth of surcharges in a nine-month span.  That allows the extra revenue to be booked in the 2014-15 biennium. The finance bill also saves $25 million by reducing payments for administrative costs to the health plans that participate in the state’s public health programs.

Not all providers fared well under the proposal. Group homes for the disabled will get just a 1 percent rate hike, and that won’t kick in until April of next year. Those group homes haven’t seen an increase in payments from the state in five years.

“That was my biggest failure,” said Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, chair of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee. “I’ve always supported treating nursing homes and the other long-term care people the same.”

Republicans seized on that as evidence that DFLers are failing to protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens even though they’re raising more than $2 billion in new taxes. “They’re down to a 1 percent embarrassing increase,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, during the debate. “We can’t find a few million dollars to help these folks out and give them a decent increase in their wages.”

Huntley focused on the positive aspects of the bill. For instance, he pointed out that there is $7.4 million in additional spending to pay for mental health service in schools across the state.

“He can walk right down the hall of the school and be treated by a mental health professional,” Huntley said, of a student dealing with psychological problems. “That costs money and we’re willing to pay for it.”

The Senate is expected to take up the health and human services finance bill on Saturday.

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