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GAMC veto will cost taxpayers, hospitals

Thursday the Minnesota House overwhelmingly approved legislation to restore health care to Minnesota's poor and sick at a lower cost to Minnesota taxpayers on vote of 125-9. The legislative solution, representing two inherent Minnesota values -- compassion and common sense -- would have restored General Assistance Medical Care for 16 months, providing basic health care to 85,000 Minnesotans.

The legislative GAMC solution was significantly less expensive and more cost-effective than the governor's proposal to auto-enroll GAMC patients into MinnesotaCare. The governor's plan would provide care to 21,000 Minnesotans per month at cost of $937 per enrollee for six months. The legislative solution would provide care to 38,000 per month at a cost of $457 per enrollee for 16 months.

The compelling reason for the temporary solution that we passed on Thursday is that on April 1., GAMC will end under the governor's plan. On that day, if someone without insurance is admitted to the hospital with acute illness or injury, he will be treated -- but the hospital will not be reimbursed. This uncompensated care will be passed on to all of us through higher premiums, higher medical costs and higher property taxes.

Minnesotans who receive General Assistance Medical Care all earn less than $8,000 per year. Eighty percent have mental health issues and 60 percent have chronic medical conditions. In addition, 8,000 veterans are served by GAMC.

Reform is not just about saving money, it is also about how we meet the needs of the people of Minnesota. It is crucial that we continue our efforts to find long-term solutions to move people from lives of crisis to stability. Keeping people healthy and saving money is as much about what happens outside the hospital as within it.

To achieve cost-savings, this legislative solution employed innovative reforms and cost-cutting measures, including a new mental health urgent care program that lowered cost. Eligibility was tightened and hospital-only coverage eliminated for individuals with income above 75% of poverty - $8,000.

To craft this temporary solution, legislators worked directly with the people who provide the care because they know better than we do what happens when a vulnerable Minnesotan walks through the emergency room door. The reason Rochester Mayo, and most Minnesota hospitals supported our solution is that it was a better financial and medical option for their hospitals and the patients they serve.

North Country Regional Hospital in Bemidji will lose almost $1 million under the governor's plan St. Josephs in Park Rapids will lose $220,000.

After months of hard work, compromise, and collaboration we brought this fiscally and morally responsible bill to the governor's desk. I'm very disappointed about the governor's decision to veto the bill. The Legislature took a fiscally responsible approach to providing health care to Minnesota's most vulnerable residents.

Lawmakers reached across the aisle, put aside differences and passed an honest and compassionate bill. I urge the governor to reconsider his decision, since the veto will cost the state more money than his signature.

Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, is a member of the Minnesota House.