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NCHS could lose $1 million under GAMC legislation

ST. PAUL -- A bill fixing health care for indigent Minnesotans could be sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk as soon as today, reflecting an agreement made late last week between legislative leaders and the governor.

But since it could mean the loss of about $1 million to North Country Health Services, Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, said Tuesday she will probably vote against the measure.

Meanwhile, Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, called the final bill a fair compromise that he planned to support.

Both spoke to Bemidjians on Tuesday as part of Bemidji Day at the Capitol, during the noon hour in the State Capitol Great Hall.

The bill to fix General Assistance Medical Care, which Pawlenty unallotted beginning April 1, creates a new hospital-based coordinated care delivery system starting June 1 in partnership with county agencies. Coordinating Care Organizations will manage health care and provide medically necessary services for eligible Minnesota residents. Capped block grants to CCOs will be funded with $71 million from the state's general fund this year an d $131 million in the next fiscal year.

For the transition until June 1, the bill would set aside $28 million from the Health Care Access Fund as GAMC will be extended. Also, after June 1, $20 million from the HCAF will be put into a six-month uncompensated care pool for hospitals that are not designated as CCOs.

"I'm very conflicted about how I will vote on this issue," Olson told the Bemidji delegation Tuesday, after emerging from a meeting with Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, who negotiated with Pawlenty.

An original GAMC fix would have brought an additional $2 million to $3 million to North Country Regional Hospital, which handles the largest number of any facility outside the Twin Cities in public assistance patients, Olson said.

"It was a proposal that the Hospital Association brought to us, after working on this the whole interim," she said. "Under the governor's proposal, that would have rolled everyone into MinnesotaCare, we would have lost $1.2 million."

The bill finally approved by a wide margin by the Legislature, after it became apparent Pawlenty would veto the original fix, would have meant an increase of $1 million to the Bemidji hospital for treating GAMC patients, she said.

"Now, the proposal that is a compromise ... looks like it will be a decrease to our hospital of close to $1 million," Olson said. "The only way I can justify voting for it, is it better than the other alternative which is the governor's proposal, which would be a decrease of $1.2 million."

The bill would fund GAMC at 23 percent of its original funding, "which is really asking our hospitals to take a bit hit," Olson said. "Yet. It's something is better than nothing. That's the conflict that I have."

Howes said he thought the bill would help most hospitals, setting up a pool of money that they can draw from for uncompensated care.

"That will take care of people they're not getting reimbursed for," the Walker Republican said. "I'm sure that will affect Hennepin County hospital more than others, but I would expect it will affect ours somewhat."

The bill is good, Howes said, as it "will save the state $714 million every two years. I think in the end it's a good product; I think everybody can live with I and make it work."