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House expects long $11 billion health budget debate

ST. PAUL -- At least 600,000 more Minnesotans would get subsidized health care under a bill House Democrats expect to pass late tonight or early Tuesday.

Republicans complain that even with increased spending for nursing homes and other long-term care programs, more money is needed.

The House health and human services bill spends nearly $11 billion in the next two years, the second most in state government, only behind public school education. Most of the spending would go to fund health programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

DFL Reps. Tom Huntley of Duluth and Tina Liebling of Rochester said no individual should see a cut in state-funded health care, but Huntley said some hospitals would take a hit.

To make up for a $150 million cut House leaders ordered in his health bill, Huntley added a surcharge on hospitals to cover much of the cut.

The surcharge would be used to match federal funds that would go to some hospitals. However, Huntley said, the federal money would not cover the surcharge at all hospitals.

"Unfortunately, there are winners and losers," Huntley said.

Democrats said that their bill adds coverage to many Minnesotans.

"We also improved MinnesotaCare," Huntley said.

The state-subsidized health insurance program would expand to include Minnesotans with incomes 138 percent to 200 percent of the federally assigned poverty rate.