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Legislature votes to extend expiring health plan

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The Minnesota Senate has followed the House and overwhelmingly approved a 16-month extension of a state health care plan for thousands of low-income adults.

The Senate passed the General Assistance Medical Care bill Thursday afternoon by a 47-16 vote, just a few hours after the House approved the measure by a vote of 125-9.

The plan would continue a pared-back version of General Assistance Medical Care through June 2011 at a cost of $284 million. The program is scheduled to end on April 1, under action Gov. Pawlenty took last year to balance the state budget.

The measure now goes to Gov. Pawlenty.

Some Republicans criticized the bill's $284 million pricetag, as well as its lack of reforms. But DFL Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul said the arguments for the bill were more convincing.

"We are offering coverage for 85,000 people for a better price than if we put them in MinnesotaCare," Murphy said. "We have strong reforms in the legislation. And because I think in the end members of the House agreed that we should use the small amount of resources available to us to care for this group of Minnesotans."

Gov. Pawlenty sent a letter to Murphy saying the legislation "does not fit within a balanced budget plan." But he did not threaten to veto the bill.

Pawlenty has three days to either sign or veto the measure. If he takes no action, the measure automatically becomes law.