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Panel to hear effect of state GAMC cuts to NCHS

North Country Regional Health Services' loss of state reimbursements and how it affects services frame discussions Thursday with a legislative panel.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's line-item veto of funding to the General Assistance Medical Care program starting in March is of special concern, as it could mean a $4.8 million reduction in state reimbursements to North Country Regional Hospital.

The Minnesota House Health and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee is visiting hospitals across Minnesota this week to discuss alternative ways to meet the needs of Minnesotans after GAMC is ended.

The 10 a.m. meeting is at North Country Health Services. It is estimated NCHS could lose between $1.9 million and $4.9 million as a result of eliminating GAMC.

Pawlenty made the elimination effective next March to give lawmakers time to find alternatives during the 2010 session. The line-item veto amounted to nearly $400 million.

"I want to be clear, the decision to drop health care for over 30,000 Minnesotans was immoral and unacceptable to the people of Minnesota," said the panel's chairman, Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

"Nonetheless, the governor is standing by his decision," said Thissen, a 2010 Democratic candidate for governor. "The purpose of the visits is not to revisit that decision. Instead, someone needs to step up and figure out how we can work together to make sure our fellow Minnesotans have access to health care."

Ending the GAMC program in March, earlier than fiscal year 2011 start on July 1 would cost NCHS from $600,000 to $1.6 million more in fiscal 2010, NCHS CEO and President Jim Hanko said earlier this month.

In addition to Bemidji, panel members will also visit hospitals in Brainerd, Thief River Falls, Detroit Lakes, Cambridge and Cloquet, as well as four metro hospitals.

"My colleagues and I have several innovative ideas for better and more efficiently serving the GAMC population," Thissen said. "But we know we do not have the corner on the truth. The purpose of the visits is to test drive our ideas and to see if those on the frontlines have other practical and effective ways of keeping these folks healthy."

GAMC is the state's health care program for the state's most destitute adults, numbering about 35,000 on the program today. Critics say the loss of the program will mean more people seeking higher cost emergency room care.

North Country Regional Hospital reported for 2008 uncompensated care of $1.9 million. It also reported costs in excess of Medical Assistance reimbursements of $2.9 million.