Farmers lobby for health care

Land Stewardship Project urging legislators to save MinnesotaCare, MNsure

Photo by Jody Isaackson Farmers Paul Sobocinski of Wabasso and Laurie Driessen of Canby are reaching out to Greater Minnesota residents asking them to contact their legislators about not cutting funding to MinnesotaCare or MNsure because so many elderly and disabled people depend on those health and human services.

MARSHALL — Paul Sobocinski is working hard to get the word out that Minnesota legislators need to save the MinnesotaCare insurance, its portal and the services it offers from the budget cuts that are being proposed.

As a farmer and the program organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, Sobocinski sees the value in MNsure and Medical Assistance (the largest of Minnesota’s publicly funded health care programs, aka Medicaid) to those in the country, whether farmer, small business owner or individual entrepreneurs who need access to public assistance.

The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1982 to foster an ethic of stewardship for farmland, to promote sustainable agriculture and to develop healthy communities, its website said.

“I have worked on the health care issue in particular for the last five years because health care is such a big issue for farmers,” the Wabasso livestock farmer said. “Our organization in particular worked really hard to see that farmers would be able to make use of MinnesotaCare, which is really important for many right now, given the low farm prices we are experiencing. We’re in the third year of low farm prices.”

With less than three weeks left of the current legislative session, Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican legislative leadership are at odds as to what to do with the budget surplus. Sobocinski pointed out that they should not have to make $5 million budget cuts with a surplus.

These cuts include funding for hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities and community resources.

“The budget also counts on reductions from new audits to remove Minnesotans from Medical Assistance coverage,” Sobocinski said.

Laurie Driessen, a farmer from Canby, agrees the cuts would be devastating. She and Sobocinski met on a bus trip for Land Stewardship where she shared her story and support for Medical Assistance.

“With the state surplus, why are they looking at budget cuts in health and human services?” Driessen asked. “That’s a big disservice to the elderly and the disabled.”

Driessen said Medical Assistance was instrumental in keeping her disabled son in Canby near family.

“Thirty-six years ago, our beautiful boy, Jeremy, was born with cerebral palsy,” she said. “Thankfully we had insurance at the time he was born, and he was covered under this plan until he turned 18.”

His disability took a toll on his body during his 36 years of life.

“We were so blessed to have amazing doctors, clinic and hospital in Canby,” Driessen said. “We were also fortunate he was able to be covered under the Medical Assistance program in Minnesota.”

Jeremy had so many health issues no plan would cover him, Driessen said. Their only hope was Medical Assistance.

“Jeremy passed away this past December,” she said. “I shudder to think of the pain and suffering he would have experienced with the cuts now proposed to this life saving program.”

In addition to the budget cuts, lawmakers also included a measure to end MNsure, the state’s exchange for individuals buying health insurance, Sobocinski said. It would move Minnesota to the federal insurance marketplace. According to advocates, the change would have serious consequences for working families.

“MinnesotaCare is not compatible with the federal exchange,” Sobocinski quoted David Zaffrann, Health Care Program Manager at TakeAction Minnesota. “There may be no way for the 100,000 people enrolled in MinnesotaCare to sign up for the program. This is a major concern, and there’s little public knowledge about what it would mean to shut down MNsure.”

The MNsure portal provided easy access to the marketplace for Minnesotans, Sobocinski said. Without it, area residents will be at a loss.

“In Lyon County, just under 8 percent of adults, or 1,145 people ages 18-64 are covered in state health insurance plans, according to date from the Minnesota Department of Human Services,” Sobocinski said. Surrounding counties came out near the 8 percent mark as well.

The legislative session is required to adjourn by May 22. If lawmakers do not work out an agreement on the budget by then, a special session could be required to finish the job.

“Health care is a big concern for every family,” Sobocinski said. “MinnesotaCare is a lifeline for many farmers, small businesses and working people in Greater Minnesota. This budget that threatens MinnesotaCare would have real consequences for many families in our communities.”

Both Sobocinski and Driessen encourage voters to contact their state legislators to encourage them to save MinnesotaCare and MNsure so that our elderly and disabled are taken care of.

They also have a message for the legislators.

“You need to stand up for the people who need you the most,” they said. “Stay strong and keep MinnesotaCare through Mnsure or a public portal where people can get access.”