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Federal health care reform bill could help Minnesota’s GAMC problem

Another good reason to follow the weekend vote on health care reform in the U.S.

Another good reason to follow the weekend vote on health care reform in the U.S. House: a provision for expanded Medical Assistance in the bill could help resolve Minnesota’s General Assistance Medical Care conundrum.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said Friday that the MA provision in the federal bill would replace the GAMC program by covering those with very low incomes who’d been on GAMC.

The state would have to come up with a $250 million match for the federal funds but could cover a large part of that amount with the $165 million that is set aside for the new cobbled-together GAMC replacement program that legislators are now finalizing. Gov. Tim Pawlenty killed that program last year and then vetoed a bipartisan attempt to resurrect it earlier this session.

The Senate has passed the new GAMC bill, and the House is expected to do so next week even if the federal bill passes, Kelliher said, to assure that those currently on GAMC will be covered after the April 1 cutoff off the old program.

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If the federal bill passes, the additional MA money coming to the state could have a long-term positive effect on the state budget, up to $1 billion a biennium, Kelliher said.

In a briefing with reporters, she also said that by pairing federal and state dollars, she hopes to minimize some of the heavy cuts to nursing homes and services for people with disabilities. One concern: Minnesota has a high quality of care at lower costs than most other states, so the state’s Washington delegation is working hard to be sure we’re not penalized for that past efficiency.

On other matters, Kelliher said:

  • Pending state budget cuts, together with cuts from past years, could seriously affect the state’s judicial system.
  • And some state colleges and universities are already trimming programs, in anticipation of cuts.
  • Efforts will be made to avoid further cuts to hospitals around the state, which are already taking a hit on the GAMC revision. The goal is: Do no more harm, she said.

Kelliher met with reporters in her State Office Building office, complete with a coffee table displaying a signed copy of Cathy Wurzer’s book “Tales of the Road, Hwy. 61.” WCCO radio reporter Eric Eskola — who is married to Wurzer — seemed happy to see the book prominently featured.