Spokesman: Pawlenty to veto GAMC extension

Pawlenty announces budget plan
Gov. Tim Pawlenty at a recent press conference. Pawlenty's spokesman said the governer will veto the legislation that would keep alive a health care program for thousands of the poorest Minnesotans.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Legislation that extends health care coverage for thousands of the state's poorest residents is on its way to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk, but a spokesman says the governor will veto the bill.

The Minnesota House overwhelmingly passed the General Assistance Medical Care measure Thursday on a 125 to 9 vote. A few hours later, the state Senate voted 47 to 16 to pass the same bill.

INTERFAITH VIGIL SUPPORTS GAMC

People of several religious faiths stood outside the House chamber to show support for the GAMC legislation. Organizer Brian Rusche of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition said he believes the bill is needed to prevent unnecessary deaths.

"Some people simply won't get care," Rusche said. "They'll delay care to points where we'll see some fatalities, and that is one of the reasons we're here.

Supporters made a similar argument on the House floor to preserve the safety net. Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, says her GAMC extension would cover 38,000 people every month, who are poor and sick.

"60 percent are mentally ill. 80 percent are chronically ill. All make less than $8,000. Roughly 8,000 of them are Minnesota veterans getting care through GAMC," Murphy said.

DFL: GAMC EXTENSION CHEAPER THAN ALTERNATIVE

Lawmakers have been moving quickly on GAMC because the program is set to end next month after Gov. Pawlenty vetoed funding for it last session to balance the state budget. The Republican governor proposed moving GAMC enrollees into another taxpayer subsidized program, MinnesotaCare. Democrats oppose that move. At $284 million, they say their extension is a far cheaper option. Murphy says the bill is primarily funded through its expected savings.

"This proposal, when enacted, will provide care for 85,000 Minnesotans over the next 16 months. It is much less expensive than the current law, and it is less expensive, much less expensive, than auto enrollment into Minnesota Care," Murphy said.

The bill no longer requires counties to pick up a share of the costs, but it cuts county block grant programs. An HMO surcharge is gone, but there are still reduced payments to physicians and other health care providers. Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, raised concerns about the costs.

"It borrows money from counties. It asks for providers to take pay cuts. And it exacerbates an existing situation to try to get health care to people who need it. I get that part," Gottwalt said. "But it's not sustainable."

PAWLENTY PLANS VETO

Gov. Pawlenty sent a letter to Murphy listing his concerns about the bill, including its cost and lack of reform. He said passage of the GAMC bill in the absence of a larger plan to solve the current state budget deficit is premature. Later in the day a spokesman for the governor said Pawlenty would veto the bill.

Within minutes of the House vote, the Minnesota Senate passed the same version of the bill and sent it to the governor. State Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, says the people currently enrolled in GAMC are not going away, and neither are the costs of treating them.

"The real main purpose of this bill is to fund a temporary GAMC program so your hospital doesn't have hundreds of thousands of dollars of uncompensated care coming in the door that they can't pay for," she said.

Senate Republicans weren't expecting such quick action. Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, complained that she only had 15 minutes to consider the impact of changes made in the House. Rosen also complained that the temporary extension does nothing to fix the ongoing problems and costs of GAMC.

"The real question is after the 16 months--if this thing does pass, after 16 months--are we still going to have GAMC? We cannot afford such a rich, plush safety net," Rosen said.

Once he gets the bill, the governor has three days to act. One potential complication: Pawlenty is scheduled to be in Washington D.C. through Tuesday morning. He's attending a political event -- the Conservative Political Action Conference -- as well as meetings of the National Governors Association.

A spokesman for the governor says Pawlenty can and will veto the bill in Washington.

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