Minnesota expands Medicaid coverage

Minnesota received federal approval Thursday to expand its Medicaid rolls ahead of the healthcare reform law's requirement to do so in 2014.

Starting March 1, 83,000 people who are enrolled in two state-funded programs will be able to join Medicaid, along with 12,000 uninsured people who are also expected to enroll. Medicaid has more comprehensive benefits and lower co-pays than the state programs — General Assistance Medical Care and MinnesotaCare — said Gov. Mark Dayton (D).

Many states have been sharply critical of the new law's expansion to all Americans who make less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, starting in 2014. But the federal government picks up most of the tab in the early years of the expansion, so making the transition sooner rather than later makes fiscal sense for states that run their own programs that complement Medicaid.

Dayton signed an executive order approving the expansion on Jan. 5, something his predecessor — possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty — had declined to do. Since then, the state's Department of Human Services has been working with healthcare providers to ensure a smooth transition.

"Community agencies, health care providers, health plans and other stakeholders have stepped in to help the transition go as smoothly as possible in a short timeframe," Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said in a statement.

Connecticut and the District of Columbia have already expanded their Medicaid rolls.