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PolitiFact: Claim oversimplifies Pawlenty health insurance cuts

The statement

Says that Tim Pawlenty eliminated health insurance for 33,000 to 35,000 people when he was governor of Minnesota.

Democratic National Committee, in a Web ad

The ruling

We asked the Democratic National Committee and the Tim Pawlenty campaign for responses on this, and didn't hear back from either one.

But journalists in Minnesota thoroughly covered the big political fight over a health care program that covered about 33,000 people back in 2009. We found that Pawlenty ultimately reduced the size of the health program and limited benefits, but care wasn't entirely eliminated.

The program was called General Assistance Medical Care, and it was a health plan for very low-income adults who were not eligible for the federal Medicaid program.

Minnesota needed to trim its budget in 2009, and Pawlenty proposed changing the program to save money. The changes would limit benefits and discourage emergency room visits by transferring some, but not all, of the beneficiaries to a program called MinnesotaCare, which required premiums. Advocates for the poor and hospital officials said the cuts would be devastating.

Pawlenty used his line-item veto to eliminate funding for the old program in May 2009, but he continued to negotiate with the Democratic-controlled legislature for the rest of the year and into 2010. "We are open to considering health care reforms during the 2010 session, but they need to be financially responsible," Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said on Jan. 13, 2010.

By February, though, Pawlenty vetoed General Assistance Medical Care again, which led to a public outcry and another round of negotiations with the Democratic-controlled legislature. In April, a compromise was reached to continue the program through May and then begin scaling it back, forcing beneficiaries to get care through hospitals or the hospitals' approved clinics. The compromise reduced funding from an estimated $400 million to $132 million for the year, according to the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune.

The compromise itself wasn't without problems. Pawlenty's administration had to negotiate with hospitals on limits for how many beneficiaries each hospital had to accept.

The ad from the Democrats says that Pawlenty eliminated a health care program for 33,000 to 35,000 people. He did veto the program, but then he negotiated a change to lower costs by reducing benefits. So we rate the ad's claim Half True.

Edited for print. For more rulings, go to PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Claim oversimplifies Pawlenty health insurance cuts 05/27/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 27, 2011 8:42pm]
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