Pawlenty vetoes effort to help poorest of the poor

Near the end of the 2009 legislative session, one of Gov. Pawlenty’s budget cutting measures was to eliminate funding for the General Assistance Medical Care program (GAMC), a plan that provided health care coverage for the poorest and sickest Minnesotans.

This population makes less than $8,000 a year, with most actually making under $3,000 a year. Almost 80 percent suffer from mental illness, chemical dependency or chronic disease, hundreds are homeless, and 8,000 GAMC recipients are veterans who have served our country.

What many people may not realize is that this veto was also a cut in payments to hospitals, and a subsequent increase in the cost of insurance premiums and health care for everyone, higher property taxes, and a loss of jobs. Democrats and Republicans alike identified this issue as one that must be addressed this session.

For many months, a group of legislators, led by Rep. Erin Murphy in the House, has worked tirelessly to come up with a plan that would extend coverage, reimburse hospitals for at least a portion of their costs of treating GAMC patients, and save taxpayers money.

Last week, both the House and the Senate approved their plan with broad bipartisan support. Members of both parties called this a huge step forward, and said it demonstrated our ability to work together to solve serious problems.


The plan we approved created a temporary 16-month program that would not only cover more people, but offered more money to hospitals and included significant reform measures – resulting in a lower cost per person.

Under this plan, the Austin Medical Center will receive over $671,000 over the 16 months, compared to $250,000 under the governor’s plan to auto-enroll GAMC recipients in MinnesotaCare. The bill is supported by hospitals, health care providers, the faith community and citizens.

Last night, Gov. Pawlenty vetoed this bipartisan effort to provide basic care for as many as 85,000 Minnesotans. He said he vetoed it because it did not include reform measures, which is inaccurate, and because it cost more. In fact, the bill he vetoed is less expensive per person and maintains coverage for an additional 20,000 adults who will lose their MinnesotaCare coverage under the governor’s budget proposal.

Everyone involved in this process, including Rep. Murphy, admits this is not a perfect solution. But it does offer health care to people who desperately need it, and buys us time to come up with a permanent fix. Over the coming weeks, I expect both the House and the Senate will attempt to override the governor’s veto. In the House, 36 Republicans voted for the bill on Thursday; three will be needed to override the veto. If the override is not successful, we have until April 1st to come up with another plan. At that time, GAMC will be gone, hospitals payments will decrease, and thousands of Minnesotans who cannot afford the cost of MinnesotaCare will no longer have health care coverage.

Please continue to contact me with your questions and concerns. I can be reached by phone at 1-888-682-3180 or 1-651-296-4193, by mail at 487 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155 or via e-mail at

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