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Minn. House to expand health coverage for poor

ST. PAUL -- More than 35,000 low-income Minnesotans would gain health-care coverage under a bill the House approved Monday.

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the federal government would pick up most of the cost under a new health-care law.

"The net savings to the state budget are $129 million in the first biennium and $237 million in the second biennium," Huntley said.

Minnesota doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers would get $1.8 billion more in the next two years and $2.5 billion in the following two years if the bill passes, Huntley said. All of that money would come from added federal payments, he added.

"Your hospitals, your doctors will be getting a lot more money because of this bill," Huntley said.

But Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said that relying on Washington is not a good idea.

"We have a track record of being sucked into this by the federal government and then being handed the bill," Drazkowski said.

Huntley countered by saying that if Washington changes its mind, Minnesota lawmakers can pass a new law.

The House passed the bill 71-56 Monday, with Democrats generally in favor and Republicans opposed. The Senate plans to follow suit, with Gov. Mark Dayton expected to sign it.

"Money doesn't grow on trees," Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said.

His opposition was based, in part, on problems that would crop up if the federal government does not follow through on its promise of additional funding.

The bill would expand the state's Medical Assistance program, which is what Minnesota calls Medicaid. Many states are expanding Medicaid after Congress and the president backed the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.