DFLers prepare to override GAMC veto

Gov. Pawlenty shot down the proposed General Assistance Medical Care extension Friday.

Tara Bannow

In an emotional showdown over health assistance programs at the state Legislature, members of the House and Senate said they will attempt to override Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs veto of a bipartisan plan to extend General Assistance Medical Care. Pawlenty swiftly shot down the measure from Washington, D.C., on Friday, where he spoke at a major conservative conference. A statement issued by PawlentyâÄôs spokesman Brian McClung said the governor is vetoing the âÄúmassive spending billâÄù because it would worsen the deficit by spending $170 million and offers no plan for reform. âÄúTheyâÄôve got things backward,âÄù the statement said. âÄúBoth DFLers and Republicans who voted for this bill should be held accountable for taking out the stateâÄôs checkbook when thereâÄôs not only no money, but a deficit.âÄù Democrats have said they will move for a veto override as soon as next week. Some Republicans are apprehensive about voting against a governor from their own party. Pawlenty, determined to erase the stateâÄôs $1.2 billion budget deficit without raising taxes, released his supplemental budget recommendations Feb. 15, including $347 million in cuts to health and human service programs. In addition to eliminating the general assistance program, which currently covers about 35,000 people each month, Pawlenty hopes to create a smaller MinnesotaCare program. To do this, about 21,500 adults without children with an income above 75 percent of the federal poverty guidelines would become ineligible. The current income limit is 250 percent of poverty guidelines. The program currently supports nearly 130,000 people. The plan would also increase MinnesotaCare premiums to 8.8 percent of household income, rather than the current scale, with a maximum premium of 7.2 percent of household income. As for those who would be bumped off the programs, Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said, âÄúThere would be no option.âÄù Some argue that increasing the number of people with no insurance coverage will force hospitals to drive up their prices for those with insurance. Hospitals will increasingly become a âÄúlast resortâÄù option for many who canâÄôt afford basic care, said Lynn Blewett, assistant professor in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. And because hospitals that accept Medicaid or Medicare are required by law to accept anyone with an urgent medical need, itâÄôs likely that hospitals wonâÄôt get paid for more of what they do, she said. âÄúI personally donâÄôt think itâÄôs a solution to much of anything,âÄù she said. Before coming to the University, Blewett worked for the state when MinnesotaCare was implemented in 1992. Her research showed definitively that the program drove down uncompensated care. Lawrence Massa, CEO and president of the Minnesota Hospital Association, released a statement condemning the cuts the day the budget proposal was announced. âÄúCutting health care coverage is the worst thing you can do in the middle of a recession,âÄù MassaâÄôs statement said. The cuts will cause businesses and individuals to pay more for health insurance, as health care providers will increase their prices for private payers, he said. In a time when jobs are scarce, hospitals are one of the stateâÄôs largest sources of employers, Massa said, adding that the governorâÄôs cuts to medical education would worsen the physician shortage. Anytime thereâÄôs a downturn in the economy, the need for a solid safety net to provide basic necessities becomes more important, Blewett said. âÄúIâÄôm not opposed to paying more for services at a time like this,âÄù she said. One solution may be to utilize a provision in federal health care reform legislation that expands Medicaid to all U.S. citizens with incomes under 100-133 percent of the national poverty line, Blewett said. The state would then receive 50 percent of every Medicaid dollar spent given the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, she said. It would take only three House Republicans to override PawlentyâÄôs veto, assuming all DFLers vote to do so. The Senate does not need any Republican votes to override the veto. The House voted with overwhelming support, 129-9, to extend the GAMC bill. Of the votes, 38 were by Republicans. The Senate voted 47-16 to pass the bill. Over the past few months, countless individuals and organizations have rallied to keep GAMC up and running. Beginning Sunday, a coalition of about 40 advocacy groups will run phone banks and e-mail campaigns to convince people to aid in the push to legislators. In the end, taxpayers will still pay for the care of the GAMC population, either directly or indirectly, Blewett said, so the governorâÄôs plan is not a solution. âÄúHeâÄôs unallotted GAMC and then taken people off MinnesotaCare âÄî itâÄôs like a double cut,âÄù she said. âÄúIt just keeps getting worse and worse.âÄù