Tim Pawlenty's New Deal

How Minnesota's new governor set the table for this year's budget-slashing "crisis" in state healthcare spending

And while she says that even if the state didn't provide health insurance for the kids, she'd still adopt them anyway, she thinks other families might see a lack of insurance as a deterrent. "For the average person, that has to be, because it is so costly," she notes. "People ask about coverage. 'How am I gonna be able to take care of this child? I just live on a budget.'"

 

Kathi Kelly
"I had nothing"

Five years ago Kathi Kelly was 19, earning $5.75 an hour working in a coffee shop in Willmar. And she was pregnant.

"Those were the most terrifying months of my life," she says. "I was not covered by my parents' insurance, because I had moved out and was not in college. I was facing nine months of bills. I was applying for WIC, food stamps, to make sure I'd have enough to pay the bills and still be able to buy food. I wasn't going to make it."

After a $4,000 hospital stay for an illness and severe dehydration, Kelly applied for Medical Assistance. "The biggest thing I was thankful for in my entire life was Medical Assistance," she says. "It's kind of like throwing someone a blanket. I just had nothing."

By the time her daughter Emma was born, Kelly had moved to Minneapolis to be with the baby's father, Mike. Though the baby's health insurance was still covered by the state, Kelly was no longer eligible because their household income was too high. But because the couple wasn't married, Kelly couldn't be covered by Mike's work benefits.

"He was recognized as being my sole support, but insurance wouldn't cover me. That was frustrating," she remembers. "Even though we knew we were going to be together, we didn't want to get married yet.

"I was just living without insurance," she continues. "I went to a free clinic with a sliding fee."

At first the lack of insurance didn't seem to be a problem, especially for a young, healthy woman. But then at one checkup, Kelly's doctor found cells in her uterus that appeared to be pre-cancerous and wanted to do a biopsy. "I looked at surgery, but I couldn't afford it," Kelly says. Her clinic suggested she apply for MinnesotaCare, and she was happy to learn the program would provide coverage despite her preexisting condition.

"I was worried I wasn't going to get coverage in time," she continues. "And then, if the bills were mounting, what if something really bad happened? Then I'd be leaving bills to my family. Not to mention the fact that I really didn't know what was going on with my body. I was thinking about family members: If a bill mounts up, who can I borrow money from? That weighs you down."

Today, getting health insurance is no longer a constant fight. The couple is married, so Mom and Dad, four-year-old Emma, and 14-month-old Christopher are all covered by benefits from Mike's job as a respiratory therapist. And because Kathi has gone two years without any further medical problems, her preexisting condition label has been lifted. But she still remembers how much the state's healthcare programs helped her when she needed it.

"Without it I'm not sure I would have made it through those times," she says. "Well, you would have made it through, but who knows if you'd ever be able to pay off the bills? Your life would be totally different.

"You need insurance. There's just no way you could live without it. For me [the state's programs have] always been a safety net. In the times I've needed it, it's always been there. People don't see who it's affected and who it's helped. These are programs that should not be cut or cut back on."

 

The Right Stuff
Minneapolis plays the public safety card to keep state dollars

By G.R. Anderson JR.

Public safety was the phrase of the day three weeks ago in the basement chambers of the State Office Building in St. Paul, when a delegation of city leaders from Minneapolis came to show the House judiciary committee they were down with the cause.

Ostensibly, the purpose of the hearing was to convince legislators that funding for the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, a statewide agency devoted to tracking organized crime, was crucial. Mayor R.T. Rybak testified before the committee, some 50 onlookers, and a host of television cameras. Minneapolis council members and police kibitzed in the gallery with a St. Paul contingent that included the city's mayor, police chief, and a handful of St. Paul police. Other cops and policy wonks periodically poked their heads through the chamber doors. Rich Stanek, a GOP state rep from Maple Grove and member of the Minneapolis Police Department soon to be named as head the state's Department of Public Safety, conducted the hearing with militant efficiency.

The real reason Rybak and Co. had come was to demonstrate that the state's largest city is in the process of streamlining government and finding new sources of revenue to solve its budget crisis. (A budget gap optimistically projected at $55 million over the next five years has already jeopardized municipal services and has leaders leaning toward a wage cap for city employees.)

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