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Fed health bill saves Minnesota millions

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

ST. PAUL -- The U.S. House-passed health care bill will bring millions of dollars to Minnesota, helping to balance the state budget.

Combined with another congressional bill, yet to pass, most of the expected cuts to Minnesota health and human services programs now will not be needed, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said.

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"Finally, the U.S. is going to join the rest of the industrial world and have universal health coverage," said Huntley, the House health-care leader.

Huntley said the most immediate impact of the much-awaited Sunday night congressional vote will be a new negotiation about the General Assistance Medical Care program.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and lawmakers this month agreed on a new GAMC bill that awaits a Minnesota House vote after senators already approved it. GAMC provides health care coverage to single Minnesotans earning less than $8,000 annually.

Huntley also said the federal legislation will allow the state will end the state-subsidized MinnesotaCare health insurance program in 2014, although not all Democrats agree.

The Duluth Democrat said the Sunday night bill will send Minnesota $330 million in the current two-year state budget. Another pending bill would send enough more money that when health and human services program cuts are considered later, about $150 million of spending will need to be eliminated. Huntley had expected cuts of more than $700 million.

While Huntley and most other Democrats were happy with the outcome, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was not.

"Democrats rejected needed, common sense reforms in favor of an overreaching, extraordinarily expensive, government-centric plan that gives more and more control to an already bloated and bankrupt federal government," Pawlenty said.

One Minnesota Democrat voted against the measure, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents western Minnesota. He said his constituents want low-cost care without destroying the best parts of the American health system.

"If the bills we voted on tonight had measured up to these standards I would have supported them, but they did not," Peterson said Sunday night. "In my judgment, while these bills deliver some good things they miss the mark on the most important things and will not deliver as promised."

Peterson's Democratic colleague from northeastern Minnesota looked at the same facts, but came to a different conclusion:

"Our nation enjoys the best, but the most expensive health care in the world," Rep. Jim Oberstar said. "The comprehensive health care legislation under consideration will preserve what works best in our health care system and make that system more efficient and affordable."

Some of the changes coming from the bill start almost immediately, if senators do as expected and approve changes the House made to the bill. But many provisions will not come until 2014.

Huntley said GAMC talks need to begin again right away because the federal bill provides money "that we didn't know we had."

The main point of the new talks may be how to provide more funds to hospitals outside the Twin Cities so they can treat Minnesota's poorest residents. The first negotiations ended with a deal that made many rural hospitals either ineligible or put them in a situation where they did not feel they could afford to take part in GAMC.

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