Minn. Senate votes to override veto

Published 2:35 pm Friday, February 26, 2010

The Minnesota Senate voted Thursday to override Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a bill maintaining an expiring state health care plan for more than 30,000 low-income adults.

The 45-21 vote along party lines sends the legislation to the House, where Democrats would need to attract some Republican support to meet the two-thirds majority required for an override. That vote won’t come until Monday at the earliest.

The Senate vote came amid ongoing talks between legislative health experts and the Pawlenty administration about ways to reshape the General Assistance Medical Care program, which is due to end April 1.

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“I hope the discussions we have will be fruitful,” said Democratic Sen. Linda Berglin, the sponsor of the vetoed bill. “It’s not clear at this point they will.”

Pawlenty shrugged off the vote, calling it “largely ceremonial.” He is confident GOP House members will stick with him, a prediction backed up by leading Republican Rep. Kurt Zellers.

“I don’t know why they would want to go into an override vote when they’re in negotiations on the issue,” said Zellers, of Maple Grove.

Democrats described the vote as something of a fail-safe. Next week, a state agency will begin transferring people from the expiring health plan to another program with more barriers to staying enrolled and less generous hospital coverage. Berglin suggested the administration slow the conversion down.

Last spring, Pawlenty stunned Democrats by canceling future financing for the General Assistance Medical Care program. Later, his administration said it would transfer affected patients into the MinnesotaCare insurance program in which people pay premiums on a sliding scale.

Pawlenty defended the switch Thursday. He said MinnesotaCare is “not a Cadillac plan but it’s a reasonable plan, particularly for those who otherwise are going to have no insurance.”

General Assistance Medical Care covers adults with yearly incomes of less than $8,000, including many with chronic health problems, chemical addictions and mental illness.

Hospital officials fear Pawlenty’s proposed switch will cost them because they expect uncompensated care to rise, given projections that thousands wouldn’t qualify for the MinnesotaCare coverage.

Berglin, of Minneapolis, said the Legislature’s approach is more efficient, costing the state an average of $457 per person per month rather than $937 under Pawlenty’s plan.

But the Democratic proposal would cost the state more money overall because more people would be covered. Republicans argued that lawmakers need to outline a comprehensive fix to the state’s $1.2 billion deficit before passing bills that strain the budget more.

None of the proposals is considered a permanent solution.

“This is not a fix. We’re propping, we’re patching, we’re putting to the future a problem that we should be dealing with today,” said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen. “By forcing this vote over the governor’s objections we’re are really saying ‘We’re not going to talk to you, governor, we’re going to delay for as long as we can.”’