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Franken, Klobuchar hail Senate health care reform vote

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Both of Minnesota's U.S. senators hailed that body's health care reform bill as important to Minnesotans.

The U.S. Senate approved its health care reform bill in a 60-39 party-line vote early Christ-mas Eve, allowing senators to head home for their Christmas break.

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"The Senate vote ... was an important step forward to a final vote on health care re-form," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobu-char, DFL-Minn., said in a statement. "I will continue to push for a final bill that in-cludes strong Minnesota-model cost reforms, deficit reduction, protections against insurance company abuses and strong, stable Medicare coverage."

She added that "Minneso-tans know that we can't simply keep pushing our problems to another day. Rising health care costs are unsustainable, bust-ing the budgets of families and businesses alike."

The Senate bill, if approved after conference committee, will also put hundreds of thou-sands of Minnesotans on health insurance, says U.S. Sen. Al Franken, DFL-Minn.

"Too many Minnesotans -- too many Americans -- are suffering as a result of our broken health care system," said Franken in a statement. "The legislation that the Sen-ate just passed ... will bring health coverage to an addi-tional 295,000 Minnesotans by 2019 and give millions more the peace of mind that they will no longer be one diagnosis, one accident, one pre-existing condition, or one pink slip away from losing health coverage."

Franken said the bill "does not fix all the problems with our health care system, but it will help begin to bring down costs and is a significant down payment toward the goal of quality affordable health care for all Americans."

Minnesota Republicans, meanwhile, criticized both senators for passing a bill that will create huge tax increases for Minnesotans.

"After weeks of shady back-room payoffs, unseemly sweet-heart deals and Enron-style accounting, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar sold out Min-nesota ... by voting for a reck-less nearly trillion-dollar spend-ing bill that increases premi-ums, raises taxes by $500 billion, cuts Medicare by over $470 billion and mandates that taxpayers fund abortion on demand.," state Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said in a statement.

"Candidate Obama promised America an open legislative process played out on C-SPAN," he said. "Instead, we saw a sleazy, secretive power play where Harry Reid bought off senators to get to 60 votes. In 2010, Democrats will pay a steep political price for their decision to ram this unpopular bill down the throats of the American people."

Klobuchar said the final Sen-ate bill included a number of her provisions.

"It would begin to rein in costs by rewarding value instead of volume, something I worked extensively with the Mayo Clinic to include," Klobu-char said. "The Senate bill reduces the fee on medical devices that was included in the Senate Finance Committee version by $18 billion.

"It would improve breast cancer screening. It includes incentives for more rural and primary doctors. It makes it easer for small businesses to purchase health care with extensive tax credits. It fixes the (Medicare Part D) donut hole by giving seniors coverage for their prescription drugs. And it includes provisions to combat Medicare fraud which siphons off $60 billion a year in taxpayer money," Klobuchar said.

Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez said the bill "is the most historic legislation since Social Security and the most comprehensive reform of the health care system since Medicare was created in 1965."

It will increase access to health care for more than 30 million Americans and end discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, he said.

"This legislation isn't perfect -- it results from some tough compromises and conces-sions," Melendez said. "But it dramatically improves upon the status quo, and it lays the groundwork for further reform down the road. Congressional Democrats and President Obama have come further than ever before in reforming the broken health care system.

"And because of the hard work of Sens. Klobuchar and Franken, this bill is better for Minnesotans and better for America. This bill is a wonder-ful gift to the American people on Christmas Eve, and will improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in the new year," he said.

Y bswenson@bemidjipioneer.com

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