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Danielle Nordine, State Capitol Bureau, Published April 03 2012

Minnesota legislative notebook: Health care contract change will return millions

ST. PAUL – A temporary profit cap on health care companies will mean a return of about $73 million to federal and state governments, Gov. Mark Dayton announced Tuesday.

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson implemented the one-time voluntary 1 percent cap on profits earned in 2011 as part of state health care reforms aimed at cost savings, more transparency and better care, she said.

“This marks the day we really close the door on the past way of doing business,” Jesson said.

Health Partners, Medica, BlueCross BlueShield and UCare will pay back their extra funds by July, she said.

About half the money likely will go to the federal government, a partner in the state public health care program, Jesson said. The rest will go to the state’s general fund.

Minority leader Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested using the funds to replace cuts made last year to personal care assistant pay.

For 2012 and beyond, health care contracts will be negotiated through a competitive bidding process. That and other changes are expected to save more than $500 million over the next biennium, Dayton said.

Land exchange OK’d

The state could trade about 90,000 acres it owns in the Boundary Waters area of northeastern Minnesota for the same amount of federal government-owned land nearby under a provision state representatives approved Tuesday.

“We are creating a children’s state forest,” Rep. David Hancock, R-Bemidji, said.

Land the state would receive in the trade could be used for mining and logging, providing the state money that would be used for schools.

“We are maximizing the benefit to your school children,” Hancock said.

Some Twin Cities lawmakers said the Hancock provision, which passed 83-45, could threaten the area’s environment.

“We are greasing the wheels to exploit state lands,” Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said.

However, Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said the state has an obligation to use the land to make money for schools. “The fact is we can’t preserve it if we are going to meet our mission.”

“We harvest wood fiber and we extract minerals,” Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said. “That’s what we do. In order to generate real money for kids, you have to let that continue.”

The provision is folded into a broader bill that passed 90-41.

Senate OKs access

The Senate approved a bill 54-10 Tuesday that would allow some access to Department of Natural Resources database information.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said the bill focuses on allowing access to those who have a “legitimate need for the information.” That would include businesses, insurance companies investigating claims, law enforcement officers, impound lots notifying owners and other similar groups.

“We are simply making life easier for these small businesspeople,” she said.

DNR information, such as from hunting and fishing licenses and snowmobile and cross-country ski passes, used to be public, but that changed in 2009 after federal law limited information access.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the information should be open to all again.

“I’m not sure why it should be private for anyone,” he said. “I’m bothered by the fact that we’re going to give it to some small businesses and some individuals but not others.”

Dayton veto likely

Gov. Mark Dayton said he does not back a proposal to eliminate the practice of using seniority as the only factor in teacher layoffs.

“I can’t support that legislation,” he said.

The plan does not offer any ideas on what a new system would be, he said. As written, it also would not go into effect until the fall of 2016.

“This is not about September of 2016, it’s about November of 2012,” he said, indicating Republicans are using the legislation to get re-elected.

He also said the debate is having a negative effect on teachers.

“I’m very concerned the effect this is having on teachers’ morale and public opinion,” he said.

Dental licenses allowed

A bill authorizing temporary guest licenses for dental care professionals was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Senate.

The bill, authored by Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, allows those licensed in another state to receive temporary licenses when providing volunteer dental services in Minnesota. The guest licenses would be for 10 days per calendar year.

“This bill carries strong regional significance throughout areas of greater Minnesota,” Carlson said. “I am confident that the individuals who are granted these temporary licenses will bring their skills to underserved populations in our state who are in need of professional dental care.”

Don Davis contributed to this report.

Danielle Nordine works for Forum Communications Co.

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