ST. CLOUD -- The cost of health care continues to be a hot button topic not only in Washington but here in St. Cloud. Governor Tim Walz made a stop at St. Cloud Hospital Thursday to talk about the most pressing health care issue at the state capitol, the Health Care Access Fund and Provider Tax.

The Health Care Access Fund was first adopted 26-years ago. The money in the fund goes toward helping cover health care costs for people who are uninsured or needing financial assistance to pay their health care bills.

Walz says if this funding were to disappear it wouldn't just cause immediate health care funding issues but long-term problems as well.

"Without it, it jeopardizes 1.1 million Minnesotans healthcare, about 40% of our children are going to be impacted by that. This fund has been in place, it has been wisely used, it has helped innovate across Minnesota and it has ensured that Minnesota has the lowest uninsurance rate in the nation and that we have some of the highest healthier outcomes, they are directly tied together."

The Provider Tax is set to expire by the end of this fiscal year and would need to be approved for renewal by the state legislature to continue to contribute to the Health Care Access Fund.

Right now, the Minnesota Senate is not willing to renew the Provider Tax which on average contributes $700-800 million to the Health Care Access Fund. This Provider Tax is set at a 2% tax rate for all health care providers in the state. Walz says the Senate is opposed to the renewal because they believe taking away the Provider Tax will decrease health care costs. Walz says it actually would have the opposite effect.

"They [health care costs] will go up for all of us, they will be spread out. The idea is, I think the term they use is the 'sick tax' and weakened and lowered costs, good luck with your pharmaceutical company lowering you 2% on that bill if this goes away. What will end up happening is the people who drop off and don't have access to it, then will have to come to the emergency room with unpaid bills they are then added to the cost that goes to all of us."

Walz says the economics and the Senate's critique as to why not to renew doesn't hold up because basic market principles don't always work in health care.

Also attending Thursday's conference, Stearns County Human Services Administrator Melissa Huberty. Huberty says without the renewal of the Provider Tax a larger financial burden will be taken on by county taxpayers.

"It will necessitate the county taxpayers and the local communities cover the costs for the most intensive and expensive services of the emergency departments, jails and detox centers, for people with the most serious mental health and substance use disorders and other chronic diseases. Without the Health Care Access Fund funding for rural health and primary care will be cut at a time of rising mental health and suicide rates amongst farmers, veterans and youth across rural Minnesota."

However, Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt disagrees with the Governor's approach...

"Governor Walz's sick tax would make health care more expensive for every Minnesotan in the state. You don't lower health care costs by raising the cost of health care—if Governor Walz and House Democrats are serious about lowering health care costs, let's start by taking health care tax increases off the table."

In the meantime, Walz says he'll be open to new suggestions from the Minnesota Senate on how to move forward.

CentraCare Health CEO Ken Holmen is in support of renewing the Provider Tax and supported Walz during his visit.

Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan will continue to visit more health care campuses throughout the state to spread their message of the importance of the Health Care Access Fund.

More From AM 1240 WJON