‘GoFundMe' health insurance? Gov. Walz draws line in sand on provider tax

After hearing stories from Minnesotans struggling to afford health insurance – including one woman who plans to crowdfund money to pay medical bills – Gov. Tim Walz defiantly said the state’s tax on medical providers will not be allowed to expire at year’s end.

Walz held a roundtable with small business owners, a farmer, a retiree and a doctor this week. All of them advocated for the governor’s plan to expand MinnesotaCare, the state’s insurance program.

Sarah Piepenburg, who owns two oil and vinegar shops in the Metro, said she had decided to go without private health insurance because of the expense. Piepenburg said she’s told her parents that she would turn to a crowdfunding website if she ever got sick.

“I have to say, I just tell them, I would start a GoFundMe page,” Piepenburg said. “I think the thing that’s hard about having these conversations is that there’s shame.”

MinnesotaCare currently has an income eligibility cap. Walz’s plan: to let the public buy into program regardless of income.

But MinnesotaCare is in flux because of the looming expiration of the state’s 2 percent tax on medical providers MinnesotaCare gets some of its funding from revenue generated by the tax.

The provider tax, in place since 1992, is scheduled to expire this year under a deal struck by Republican lawmakers and former Gov. Mark Dayton.

Walz said allowing the tax to expire would eventually blow a $1 billion hole in the state’s health and human services budget. Republicans have said reinstating it would amount to a tax increase.

“Let’s be clear,” Walz said, drawing his line in the sand. “The provider tax is going to stay. Those three dozen senators over there know that. Because if it doesn’t, they are going to sit in front of millions of Minnesotans and the fallout will be immense.”

Republicans said Walz’s proposal to reinstate the tax would face difficulty in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“I see some hurdles there,” state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, told reporters after the governor’s roundtable ended.

Senate Republicans on Thursday proposed budget targets that increase health and human services spending by $1.6 billion over the next two years. They haven’t said where they’d find the extra money if the provider tax is allowed to lapse.

“We’re absolutely committed to protecting pre-existing conditions. We’re committed to the seniors. We’re committed to people with disabilities. We’re committed to children’s mental health,” said state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. “Will it be difficult? That’s why you pay us the big money.”

Walz and his top deputies were skeptical.

“They know darn well we can’t fill that hole,” Health and Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey said.