Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued an executive order today that effectively bars state agencies from applying for federal money set aside in the 6-month-old health overhaul law without first getting approval from his office.
Under the order, the governor's office would hold sway over potentially hundreds of millions of dollars available to the state for initiatives included in the legislative package signed by President Obama in March.
"Obamacare is an intrusion by the federal government into personal health care matters and it's an explosion of federal spending that does nothing to make health care more affordable," Pawlenty said in a statement. "This executive order will stop Minnesota's participation in projects that are laying the groundwork for a federally-controlled healthcare system."
Pawlenty, a Republican who is considering a run for the White House, has been a harsh critic of the administration's attempts to remake the fractured health care system in the U.S.
Earlier this year, the governor unsuccessfully lobbied Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, a Democrat, to join with a handful of other states in a lawsuit against the reform package. And in June, Pawlenty rebuffed an effort to expand Medicaid ahead of a health reform deadline.
According to the statement, Pawlenty's office "will evaluate federal funding opportunities on the basis of whether they will support existing state initiatives or programs, or whether such federal funding opportunities create new encroachments by the federal government under the recently passed federal legislation."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, speaking today at an event in Washington, warned that Pawlenty's move could ultimately jeopardize newly designed programs already in play.
Sebelius cited measures in the reform package that help defray the costs of prescription medications and prevent insurance companies from dropping patients once they become sick, along with efforts designed to catch and prevent illnesses in seniors, as just some of the programs created by the law.
"So I have no idea if those are the kinds of benefits he attempts to eliminate for the citizens of Minnesota," Sebelius said. "I can only hope not, because I think they will, overall, help lower costs and improve the health of citizens of Minnesota and citizens across the country."
Minnesota's junior senator, Al Franken (D), also took exception to Pawlenty's move.
"The health reform law makes huge strides toward containing health care costs and will expand high-quality, affordable coverage to over half a million uninsured Minnesotans," Franken said today in a statement. "Banning grant applications by Minnesota for millions of dollars makes no sense. It's bad for Minnesotans' health care, and it's bad for Minnesota's budget. Money Minnesota is barred from getting will go to other states. Minnesota is at risk of getting left behind as other states take advantage of the opportunities the health reform law provides to improve our health care system."