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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan May 26, 2011

Tim Pawlenty eliminated health insurance for 33,000 in Minnesota, DNC says

An ad from the Democratic Party suggests Tim Pawlenty doesn’t have any good reason for running for president. The text of the ad asks, "Why is Tim Pawlenty running for president? Is it his track record as governor?" while really annoying oompa music plays in the background.

The ad then shows what looks like local news coverage from 2009. "Gov. Pawlenty eliminated the program that provides health care to 33,000 low-income residents," says a narrator. "(The) governor has systematically been cutting programs to the core since he took office." Another person says, "All of a sudden we’re going to have 35,000 people without health insurance."

The ad makes some other claims, too. It said that Pawlenty has flip-flopped on his position on cap and trade (accurate; we gave him a Full Flop for that) and that he’s said he doesn’t know why he’s running for president (inaccurate, according to

Here, we wanted to focus on the claim that Pawlenty eliminated a health insurance program for approximately 33,000 low-income people in 2009.

We asked the Democratic National Committee and the Tim Pawlenty campaign for responses on this, and didn’t hear back from either one.

But journalists in Minnesota thoroughly covered the big political fight over a health care program that covered about 33,000 people back in 2009. We found that Pawlenty ultimately reduced the size of the health program and limited benefits, but care wasn’t entirely eliminated.

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The program was called General Assistance Medical Care, and it was a health plan for very low-income adults who were not eligible for the federal Medicaid program. (At that time, Medicaid was only open to people who were both low income and elderly, disabled, young or pregnant.)

Minnesota needed to trim its budget in 2009, and Pawlenty proposed changing the program to save money. The changes would limit benefits and discourage emergency room visits by transferring some, but not all, of the beneficiaries to a program called MinnesotaCare, which required premiums. Advocates for the poor and hospital officials said the cuts would be devastating.

Pawlenty used his line-item veto to eliminate funding for the old program in May 2009, but he continued to negotiate with the Democratic-controlled legislature for the rest of the year and into 2010. "We are open to considering health care reforms during the 2010 session, but they need to be financially responsible," Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said on Jan. 13, 2010.

By February, though, Pawlenty vetoed General Assistance Medical Care again, which led to a public outcry and another round of negotiations with the Democratic-controlled legislature. In April, a compromise was reached to continue the program through May and then begin scaling it back, forcing beneficiaries to get care through hospitals or the hospitals’ approved clinics. The compromise reduced funding from an estimated  $400 million to $132 million for the year, according to the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune.

The compromise itself wasn’t without problems. Pawlenty’s administration had to negotiate with hospitals on limits for how many beneficiaries each hospital had to accept.

As a footnote, the program changed yet again once Pawlenty left office. Pawlenty was succeeded by a Democrat, Mark Dayton, who campaigned on using the federal health care law of 2010 to expand the Medicaid program in Minnesota. Signing an executive order to do so was one of Dayton’s first acts as governor, which moved the General Assistance Medical Care program into Medicaid.

The ad from the Democrats says that Pawlenty eliminated a health care program for 33,000 to 35,000 people. He did veto the program, but then he negotiated a change to lower costs by reducing benefits. So we rate the ad’s claim Half True.

Our Sources

Star Tribune, Votes, then veto for health care, Feb. 19, 2010

Star Tribune, Pawlenty will sign health care bill for the poor, March 24, 2010

Star Tribune, Hospitals are opting out of new state health plan, April 16, 2010

Star Tribune, Health care for poor rescued, May 7, 2010

Star Tribune, Funding cuts strain health plan for poor, Aug. 6, 2010

Star Tribune, 95,000 poor Minnesotans will get Medicaid today, Jan. 5, 2011, Q&A: Medicaid Expansion, Jan. 5, 2011

Interview with Karen Smigielski of Minnesota Department of Human Services, May 25, 2011

Minnesota Department of Human Services, General Assistance Medical Care, accessed May 25, 2011

Minnesota Department of Human Services, Fast Facts: 2010 Legislative Session, May 2010

Minnesota Department of Human Services, letter to beneficiaries, Feb. 24, 2011

Interview with Christina Wessel of Minnesota Budget Project, May 25, 2011

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More by Angie Drobnic Holan

Tim Pawlenty eliminated health insurance for 33,000 in Minnesota, DNC says

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