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Northern reps split on health reform

As U.S. House members headed to a vote late Saturday night on health care reform, northern Minnesota's lawmakers split on the bill.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, waited until Saturday night to make a speech on the House floor before saying he supportst the bill.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, made it clear early he would not support the bill, making him the only Democrat in the Minnesota delegation to oppose the House-crafted health care reform bill.

"This bill is not perfect, but is it a good bill," Oberstar said on the House floor. "The three committees worked hard to address the concerns of the people of my district, and over the past few days we have addressed my own concerns: regional disparities in Medicare reimbursement that have penalized Minnesota health care providers; ensuring that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortion services."

If Oberstar were to vote against the bill, it would have been on provisions to provide taxpayer-paid abortions.

"America has the finest doctors, the latest medical equipment, and cutting edge technology that is the envy of the world," Oberstar said. "But millions of Americans cannot access this system because they can't afford health insurance. Those who are insured know that they are only one layoff away from losing it, or that rising premiums could price them out of coverage."

The current House bill will help protect Americans from being denied health insurance due to pre-existing conditions, he added.

Peterson, in an August town hall hearing in Bemidji, said he could not support health care reform that does not equalize reimbursements between urban and rural hospitals and medical providers.

One of the most conservative of Minnesota's Democrats, Peterson told the Star Tribune that the bill doesn't do enough to fix Medicare disparities or to control costs.

"I mean, if this bill became law, either the system would collapse or you would create the biggest tax increase that we've ever seen in history," Peterson told the Star Tribune. "That's what would happen."

The bill headed toward a vote isn't fixable, he said, "given what I know about the power forces here."

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama urged House members to pass the measure, in remarks late Saturday afternoon.

"Now is the time to finish the job," he said. "The bill that the House has produced will provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality, affordable options for those who don't; and lower costs for American families and American businesses. And as I've insisted from the beginning, it is a bill that is fully paid for and will actually reduce our long-term federal deficit."