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House votes to expand health coverage for poor Minnesotans

News Alexandria,Minnesota 56308
Echo Press
House votes to expand health coverage for poor Minnesotans
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549

ST. PAUL -- More than 35,000 low-income Minnesotans would gain health-care coverage under a bill the House approved Monday.

Representative Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the federal government would pick up most of the cost under a new health-care law.

"The net savings to the state budget are $129 million in the first biennium and $237 million in the second biennium," Huntley said.

Minnesota doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers would get $1.8 billion more in the next two years and $2.5 billion in the following two years if the bill passes, Huntley said. All of that money would come from added federal payments, he added.

"Your hospitals, your doctors will be getting a lot more money because of this bill," Huntley said.

But Representative Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said that relying on Washington is not a good idea.

"We have a track record of being sucked into this by the federal government and then being handed the bill," Drazkowski said.

Huntley countered by saying that if Washington changes its mind, Minnesota lawmakers can pass a new law.

The House passed the bill 71-56 Monday, with Democrats generally in favor and Republicans opposed. The Senate plans to follow suit, with Governor Mark Dayton expected to sign it.

Representative Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, who represents part of Douglas County, voted in favor of the bill.

"This is the kind of solution that Minnesotans are looking for," he said. "The bill will give health insurance coverage to those families who desperately need it. People across our state are struggling to get the health care they need and this bill gives them that coverage without hitting Minnesota's budget."

Other lawmakers were wary of the measure.

"Money doesn't grow on trees," Representative Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said.

His opposition was based, in part, on problems that would crop up if the federal government does not follow through on its promise of additional funding.

The bill would expand the state's Medical Assistance program, which is what Minnesota calls Medicaid. Many states are expanding Medicaid after Congress and the president backed the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

About 35,000 Minnesotans without insurance would be covered by Medical Assistance, Huntley said. Another 23,000 who now are paying state-subsidized premiums for MinnesotaCare insurance would be transferred to Medical Assistance, which would not cost the patients.

Most of the new Medical Assistance recipients would be fully funded the next four years by the federal government, Huntley said, with Washington's portion slowly falling to 90 percent after that.

If the bill does not pass, Huntley said, the federal government would stop paying for some health care it already funds.

When people do not have insurance, they tend to use emergency rooms more often. Huntley said hospitals must take care of emergency patients, so they would lose money if the bill fails.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.