GAMC supporters voice concerns over program's cut at Senate hearingby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A state-subsidized health care plan for low-income Minnesotans is scheduled to end in just over six weeks, and some of the people who will lose coverage are speaking out.
Several recipients of General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) came to the State Capitol Wednesday to urge lawmakers to save the program, and save it soon.
When it comes to paying for health care, Minnesotans like Trixy Weddig of Duluth don't have a many options. Weddig is unemployed and dealing with several ongoing medical issues. During a hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division, Weddig told legislators she's been relying on General Assistance Medical Care since 2006.
"I've been sick many times and GAMC has helped me. Whether I had the flu or bronchitis, or when I sprained my ankle, I had care," Weddig said. "I have a primary care physician but also have used urgent care and the emergency room.
"I also have mental health concerns, and access to health care means I can see a psychiatrist and receive therapy. I take 10 medications each day."
Living on a monthly income of $203, Weddig said she can't afford the premiums and co-pays required in other health care programs. James Beedee of St. Paul has similar concerns. Beedee, an unemployed Vietnam veteran, said he's trying to get by on $200 a month.
"And if we lose GAMC, I'm worried that I won't be able to afford my rent, plus the cost of a health policy, plus a co-payment cost of the three medications I take daily," Beedee said.
DFL legislators are proposing a temporary extension of GAMC coverage for an estimated 35,000 enrollees. Their plan relies on a Medicaid surcharge for hospitals and HMOs, reduced provider reimbursements rates and counties picking up 10 percent of the cost. Eligibility would also be tightened.
State Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, says the proposal asks a lot from all involved. But she said the loss of GAMC would have dire, more expensive consequences.
"So while this is not a perfect solution, it is a solution that puts money on the table to help solve the problem, and it is a solution that will live within the means of the revenue that we make available," Berglin said.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut funding for GAMC last year as part of his solution for the state budget deficit. He directed state officials to switch current GAMC enrollees to coverage under the MinnesotaCare program, which is primarily funded through the state's Health Care Access Fund.
Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, tried to defend Pawlenty and his proposal. Koering said the governor is trying his best under difficult financial circumstances.
"The administration is trying to figure out how to fix the GAMC problem, and all of the other problems that we have," Koering said. "So, I hope you'll be mindful of that and not vilify people, because they're trying to do their job."
Supporters of the GAMC extension are trying to get bipartisan agreement on a bill by the end of the month. They want to see the measure passed and signed into law shortly after the 2010 session begins on Feb. 4.
- All Things Considered, 01/13/2010, 5:24 p.m.