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House health panel approves bill to help more Minnesotans access MA benefits

If you’re poor, you can get Medical Assistance.

But if your income is just a bit over the eligibility limits and you get hit with large medical bills, MA won’t help you unless you can “spenddown” your income to become eligible once again.

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) wants to help people with disabilities and those aged 65 or older, who she says have more onerous spenddown and income rules.

She sponsors HF2773, which the House Health Finance and Policy Committee approved 16-2 Wednesday and sent to the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin) sponsors the companion, SF2985, which awaits action by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

The bill would increase the income limit for persons with disabilities and persons aged 65 or older from 100% to 133% of the federal poverty guidelines. It would also increase the spenddown limit for these groups of individuals to 133% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Liebling said tougher spenddown limits now in place for the people with a disability and people aged 65 or older were unfair to those groups, and her bill would bring those limits in line with other groups.

In a presentation, Rebecca Johnson, a policy analyst at the Department of Human Services, explained that a Medical Assistance spenddown helps Minnesotans who exceed the income limit still qualify for help to pay large medical bills.

Persons whose income is above the income limit for their eligibility group can qualify for assistance by “spending down” their income, she said, by incurring medical bills that equal or exceed the difference between their income and the Medical Assistance spenddown limit.

Although there would be a cost to the state, with the current budget surplus of $7.7 billion, Liebling said this is an opportune time to bring more fairness in Medical Assistance income limits and spenddown formulas.

“Now is time to figure out whether we can afford to treat people with disabilities the way they should be treated, the same as everybody else, at the very least, and not worse,” she said.

That cost is unknown at the moment, but Liebling said a fiscal note would be available by the time the bill is heard in the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee.

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