DFL gubernatorial candidates weigh in on health care

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The principal issue in the race for DFL endorsement for governor will probably be the candidate’s position on health care. All the candidates acknowledge there’s a problem and all of them support some kind of universal coverage.

Becky Lourey staked out the high ground early. She has been clear in her support of a single payer system through expansion of MinnesotaCare (MNCare). This would be a gradual expansion that would create
the least disruption and crunch on the State treasury. It would allow Minnesota corporations and small businesses to offer MinnesotaCare to their employees. This is the most comprehensive practical proposal of any of the candidates.

Steve Kelley supports the Physician’s Plan for a Healthy Minnesota, which would provide health care for everyone by subsidizing payments to the insurance industry. His website claims he would “reduce the percentage of money going to administrative and marketing expenses,” but it’s difficult to see how that would happen working through the insurance companies. The recurring scandals of the unlimited greed of corporate insurance executives reached a new low when William McGuire of UnitedHealth Group, Inc. had to apologize two weeks ago for embarrassing stockholders when it became public that he took $1.6 billion in stock options as his reasonable compensation. It seems unlikely that the insurance industry is going to reform itself and curtail its appetite for whopping profits, skyrocketing salaries and billion-dollar stock options.

Mike Hatch has built his reputation as a crusading attorney general willing to investigate excessive profits in the health care industry. He went after Allina and scored points with a public frustrated with increased health insurance premiums and bloated profits. Then he went after MPAAT, the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco. He demanded it restructure its board, and he wanted more smoking cessation programs and fewer publicity campaigns. The original MPAAT board was made up of people who were getting grants, but, in all fairness, those members of the board represented organizations that had been working against Big Tobacco for decades. They were the experts and they were doing the work. Also, every study that’s ever been done proves that public campaigns are more effective in stopping tobacco than tobacco cessation programs. [In the interest of full disclosure, Pulse has been sponsoring Smoke Free Saturday Nights for seven years—before MPAAT existed, and we have received some support for these events from numerous sources, including MPAAT.] Hatch did nothing when Target Market was gutted by Governor Tim Pawlenty and House Speaker Steve Sviggum so they could give tax breaks to their rich friends. Big Tobacco contributes generously to the Republicans in general and to Pawlenty and Sviggum in particular, so it was expected that they would kill a program that had proved effective in getting young people to stop and not start smoking. But what is little known is that one of Mike Hatch’s principal fundraisers when he was running for attorney general four years ago was a principal lobbyist for the tobacco industry. This conflict of interest alone raises questions about Hatch’s commitment to public health.

Some people have been frustrated with Becky Lourey’s actions in the Minnesota State Senate this session. They feel she could have done more. It is difficult to see what else she could have done with an antagonistic Republican governor and a hostile Republican House. There was no hope for any changes in health care reform this session, but there will always be some that won’t be satisfied until our champions have hurled themselves on the barricades and been blasted away by cannon balls.

All too often, the great is the enemy of the good. The ultra left says, “Don’t support it, it’s not pure enough,” and that is the surefire way to get nothing done.

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