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Senate passes health bill

State Capitol Bureau ST. PAUL - A divided Minnesota Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a health-care reform package some lawmakers described as bold and necessary and others said moves too fast. The bill aims to bring down health-care c...

State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - A divided Minnesota Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a health-care reform package some lawmakers described as bold and necessary and others said moves too fast.

The bill aims to bring down health-care costs, get more Minnesotans health insurance and lead to better health care results, said author Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis.

Action is needed because without reforming the system, Berglin said, health-care spending will continue to escalate.

A floor vote was delayed for more than a week as supporters worked to tweak the controversial bill to appease health-care interest groups and fellow senators. It passed 41-22.

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The bill attempts to increase the number of insured Minnesotans through public and private health plans, requires health-care providers to post their costs for treatments and creates a statewide health plan to curb obesity and tobacco use.

It also proposes creating "medical homes" in which medical staff would agree to work closely with patients suffering from chronic diseases - such as asthma, heart conditions and diabetes - to reduce more costly treatments down the road. In exchange, the medical homes would receive additional monthly per-patient payments.

Minutes before senators began debating their health-care reform bill, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he had concerns. He hopes to meet soon with Berglin and Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, who is sponsoring a similar bill in the House.

The Republican governor did not specify his differences with DFL health leaders, but said Huntley and Berglin already know he opposes the bill as it stands.

Opponents of the Senate bill raised concerns about medical privacy issues, growing bureaucracies, new health-care taxes and uncertainty about how much money it would save.

The biggest challenge to the DFL-led plan came from Democratic Sen. John Marty of Roseville, who tried to strip key reform provisions.

Marty, who leads a health-care policy committee, said he would keep important parts of the bill intact, but he criticized other portions. He proposed a University of Minnesota study of proposed health-care reforms.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Don Davis contributed to this report

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Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com

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