By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Health care for low income Minnesotans could be in jeopardy if a special tax to pay for it expires. Gov. Tim Walz warned lawmakers at a State Capitol rally not to wage what he called an “ideological fight” over it.

Health care advocates are fighting to “unset the sunset” of a 2-percent tax on health care providers. The money pays health care costs for lower income people like Bloomington’s Patsy Murphy, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1992.

“Choosing between living in my home or living on the street, because I could not afford to pay my medical bills or prescriptions,” Murphy said.

The provider tax brings in $919 million a year, helping pay for medical and dental care for more than a million Minnesotans on Medicaid or MinnesotaCare.

Democratic Gov. Walz is warning Republican lawmakers not to let the tax expire.

“I am not willing to compromise people’s health or sacrifice our values for the sake of some fake bipartisanship that doesn’t matter,” Walz said.

Republican lawmakers say the health care provider tax has outlived its purpose, and isn’t needed anymore to pay for Medicaid and Minnesota Care. Republican Sen. Michelle Benson, committee chair for Health & Human Services, says the nearly $50 billion state budget has plenty of money elsewhere besides the nearly $1 billion health care access fund.

“I don’t think the problem that the governor describes is caused by the provider tax,” Benson said. “It’s just turned into a giant slush fund of spending. And we’re going to have to make some choices about what our priorities are in Minnesota, instead of having this sort of secret pot of money that funds special projects.”

Walz says letting the provider tax expire will blow a billion-dollar hole in the state budget. Lawmakers must decide on the health care tax before the session ends in late May.

Pat Kessler

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