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Fed health bill saves Minnesota millions

ST. PAUL -- The U.S. House-passed health care bill will bring millions of dollars to Minnesota, helping to balance the state budget.

Combined with another congressional bill, yet to pass, most of the expected cuts to Minnesota health and human services programs now will not be needed, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said.

"Finally, the U.S. is going to join the rest of the industrial world and have universal health coverage," said Huntley, the House health-care leader.

Huntley said the most immediate impact of the much-awaited Sunday night congressional vote will be a new negotiation about the General Assistance Medical Care program.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and lawmakers just agreed on a new GAMC bill that awaits a Minnesota House vote after senators already approved it. GAMC provides health care coverage to single Minnesotans earning less than $8,000 annually.

Huntley also said the state will be able to end the state-subsidized MinnesotaCare health insurance program in 2014, although not all Democrats agree.

The Duluth Democrat said the Sunday night bill will send Minnesota $330 million in the current two-year state budget, and another pending bill will send enough more that when health and human services program cuts are consider later, just $100 million of spending will need to be eliminated.

Huntley had expected cuts of more than $700 million.

While Huntley and most other Democrats were happy with the outcome, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was not.

"Democrats rejected needed, common sense reforms in favor of an overreaching, extraordinarily expensive, government-centric plan that gives more and more control to an already bloated and bankrupt federal government," Pawlenty said.

One Minnesota Democrat voted against the measure, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents western Minnesota. He said his constituents want low-cost care without destroying the best parts of the American health system.

"If the bills we voted on tonight had measured up to these standards I would have supported them, but they did not," Peterson said Sunday night. "In my judgment, while these bills deliver some good things they miss the mark on the most important things and will not deliver as promised."

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.