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House passes GAMC compromise

ST. PAUL -- A bill headed to the governor reinstates medical coverage for 70,000 Minnesotans making less than $8,000 per year.

The House voted 121-12 and the Senate 50-12 Wednesday to restore the program, but lawmakers scaled back General Assistance Medical Care, which had been slated to disappear April 1.

Most voting against the bill were rural lawmakers who said their local hospitals would lose money under it.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, voted "no" after discussions with Rice Hospital officials who told him: "We don't know how long we can absorb losses like that."

Juhnke said he believes the state should use federal dollars to create a better option.

The only significant change to the bill after it was negotiated by legislative leaders and the governor's office gave St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth $200,000 more if it takes part in a program to treat GAMC patients.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty eliminated GAMC to help balance the state budget.

Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, fought tears while discussing the bill.

"It is not my favorite solution and it is not all I had hoped for but it will get us through a difficult period in Minnesota and on to something better," she said.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders had mixed feelings. Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, voted "yes" despite massive spending cuts.

"Those that think there is reform in this bill, we have some nice language about reform but it is never going to work because there is not the money there to make it work," he said. "It won't make insurance premiums look good."

Republican human services leader Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, acknowledged it is not a perfect bill but said it solved many problems.

"We're very happy to find a bill the Legislature can agree to that the governor will sign," he said.