FORUM | Losing health insurance in Minnesota


With the number of uninsured Minnesotans reaching nearly half a million in 2009, and others in danger of being cut off by the state’s planned phase-out of the General Assistance Medical Care program for the state’s poorest, the question becomes, what can Minnesota do to keep its residents insured? 

More than 100,000 more Minnesotans went without health insurance in 2009 than in 2007, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health released this month.

“The economic recession has had a clear impact on health insurance access and affordability,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Sanne Magnan said after the survey was released to the public. “While it is not surprising that we found a higher rate of uninsurance in 2009, these study results highlight the need to sustain Minnesota’s health reform efforts that are designed to contain rising health care costs.”

The facts:

Minnesota historically has had one of the lowest rates of uninsurance in the country, but the number of uninsured is growing as the number of Minnesotans who have health insurance through their employer decreased from 62.5 percent in 2007 to 57.2 percent in 2009. Over the same period, the percentage of Minnesotans who were uninsured increased from 7.2 percent to 9.1 percent.

The case for single-payer insurance:

Instituting a single-payer health care system similar to Medicare that would cover everybody would guarantee universal, affordable insurance coverage and keep costs down, said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, a candidate for governor in 2010.

“It is a proposal that would provide health care for everyone, not merely health insurance for many,” Marty said of his proposal, dubbed the Minnesota Health Plan. “It would cover everyone, save money, and create a logical health-care system to replace the dysfunctional non-system which currently exists.”

Marty’s bill, SF 118, has received approval from three Senate committees and its House companion, HF 135, from Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, won its first committee approval this week on an 11-6 vote. Opponents labeled the proposal “socialist.”

The case for private insurance mandates:

Requiring all Minnesotans to purchase private insurance with reduced coverage mandates and preventing insurance companies from excluding people for preexisting conditions would make health insurance more affordable, said Dr. Ben Whitten, president of the Minnesota Medical Association.

“If healthy people don’t buy insurance, it weights the risk pool the wrong way for the rest of us,” Whitten said. “Government subsidies would help those who cannot afford it to be able to get a basic benefits plan.”

The case for reforming the medical payment system to control costs:

Health care reform at the state and federal level that changes the way medical services are paid for would keep insurance premiums down and make private insurance more affordable, said Lawrence Massa, president of the Minnesota Hospital Association.

“We pay for things to get done one at a time now. We’re advocating for something that pays for value and outcomes, not just tests and procedures,” Massa said. “Over time, these costs controls will bring premiums down.”

The case for keeping government out of health care:

Adding more people to the public insurance roles would bankrupt the system, countered Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. He suggests cracking down on the small number of medical practitioners who he said run up the costs of health care for everybody by ordering unnecessary and expensive procedures.

“We shouldn’t toss away a system that successfully insured more than nine out of every 10 Minnesotans,” Abeler said. “If we can’t figure out a market-oriented approach that keeps access to private insurance affordable, the government-run system we replace it with will collapse from the weight of its costs.”

Questions: What do you think?

Daily Planet readers are invited to tell your own stories and add your thoughts by clicking on “Comment” below. If you’ve recently lost your health insurance coverage, are struggling to hold onto it or have managed to find a solution that works, let us know your story. Citizens who want to weigh in can also contact the state lawmakers — click here for links to phone numbers and e-mail addresses for Minnesota House of Representatives and for Minnesota Senate