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Lawmakers, governor unsure how health bill will affect Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- The Pawlenty administration and Democrats who control the Legislature issued widely differing assessments on how the newly signed federal health care reform law will affect Minnesota, but Tuesday evening the two sides agreed to sit down together to figure it out.

Legislative health-care leaders, including Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth and Linda Berlin of Minneapolis, are to meet with Pawlenty administration officials today.

The meeting was set up Tuesday evening when legislative leaders met with Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Besides agreeing to work together on the federal law, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, agreed to bring a compromise health-care for the poor program up for a full House vote today or Thursday. Senators already approved it.

The General Assistance Medical Care program affecting 30,000 single Minnesotans who earn $8,000 or less a year is due to expire April 1 if lawmakers and Pawlenty do not take action.

The governor and leading lawmakers reached a compromise last week, but Huntley and others said on Monday that GAMC needed to be reconsidered in light of the new federal health policy.

Also Tuesday, leaders and Pawlenty discussed a $313 million budget-cut bill the House and Senate passed Monday, and now is subject of a conference committee. While Pawlenty's spokesman said the governor could veto the measure, legislative leaders promised to finish negotiations by Monday, sending it to the governor for his consideration.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said the budget bill is something Pawlenty should be able to sign.

The Legislature is taking measures to balance a nearly $1 billion state budget deficit in three steps. The one lawmakers approved Monday takes money from a variety of agencies, but left health and human services and education programs for debate later.

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said that while the governor would prefer lawmakers give him one overall budget-balancing bill, "we cannot force them to do it the right way."

McClung said the governor's office will work with budget negotiators, who are working relatively minor differences between the House and Senate bills, to come up with a compromise Pawlenty can sign.

The biggest dispute may be about how much money the federal health policy will provide Minnesota.

"Unfortunately, the impact of these federal funds has been inaccurately overstated in almost every case," McClung said.

McClung said the health-care reform legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday actually would bring in a net $14 million, not the $330 million that Huntley and others claimed.

A required increase in Medicaid coverage would cost the state $881 million more in 2012-13, McClung added.

Huntley had praised the federal action as not only increasing health coverage but helping solve Minnesota's budget deficit problem.