Provider tax sunset date approaching

Don’t let the sun set on Minnesota’s health care provider tax. A Preserve the Provider Tax rally March 21 at the capitol drew dozens of advocates determined to save the tax, which funds critical health care programs. The rally was organized by the coalition This is Medicaid. Selfadvocates, doctors and legislators were joined by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in the call for the tax to continue.

The two percent tax on medical bills and hospital stays was created 27 years ago by state legislators to pay for MinnesotaCare and other health care programs for low-income people. The programs serve about 1.5 million people. That tax generates more than $600 million per year.

The two percent tax will expire at the end of 2019, unless it is extended. Walz and House DFLers are determined to save the tax but are running into staunch opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate. Walz told the crowd he is “not willing to compromise peoples’ health for the sake of some fake bipartisanship.” He said tax foes need to step aside “and all ow us to continue to do the right thing.”

Supporters contend that the tax is the time-tested way to fund needed health care programs. Most states have a similar tax in place. With one in five Minnesotans using Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare programs, the tax is needed to provide health care access for all. They want the debate framed as one about health care needs, and not as a focus on taxes.

Patsy Murphy has had epilepsy since infancy. She also lives with a traumatic brain injury sustained in a fall at age. In 1991, doctors said she would live in a persistent vegetative state. But she has been able to get needed care and rehabilitation services and remain active in her community.

“Medicaid has been a lifesaver for me,” Murphy said. “It’s important for people with disabilities to have care when they need it.”

Riley Schumacher lives with Common Variable Immune Deficiency, a disorder that impairs the immune system. His parents had to fight for his health care needs, while hoping he’d make it to adulthood. He’s now a student, starting his own business. “This is all because of the provider tax.”

Schumacher receives Medical Assistance now, which covers very costly, needed medications. “We shouldn’t put people in costly and dangerous situations,” he said. “I constantly worry that I might lose my coverage … Let’s create a future where everyone has what they need to thrive, and not just survive.”

Flanagan spoke of being a child with asthma. “Medicaid saved my life,” she said. “Access to health care is a basic human right,” said Walz. Continuing the tax is “morally and ethnically right.” The state tax becomes more important with the threats at the federal level to health care problems.

Rep. Alice Mann (DFL – Lakeville) is vice chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. She is also a doctor. “We need to get away from this fantasy that taking this away won’t hurt people.”

“We must not let the sun set on the provider tax” said Dr. Mike Severson. He recalled when the tax was passed 27 years ago, by a bipartisan group of legislators described as the “Gang of Seven.” Severson said the tax has proven its worth, and its value in supporting the state’s health care system.

“I have seen what access to quality health care can do. Right now, there is no better option than the health care tax,” he said.

Keep up with legislative actions on the tax on the This is Medicaid Facebook page and on its Twitter feed.