Hatch hopeful for health care reform

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It’s possible for every Minnesotan to have health coverage without taxes having to budge, according to Attorney General Mike Hatch. In his Aug. 9 speech at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, the DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate explained why he thinks it’s possible and how he would do it if he were elected.

“Being attorney general, I get … two keys on the piano to play,” Hatch said. “I get to sue people, and I get to audit nonprofits. That’s not sufficient.”

Information his offices have collected on lack of accountability and wasteful spending among health care providers such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners and others, has not been acted upon, he said. And if he became governor, he said that would change.

Pawlenty for Governor campaign manager Michael Krueger gave a written response to Hatch’s speech last week.

“While we may disagree on some of the details, Governor (Tim) Pawlenty has previously identified many of the same goals as the attorney general talked about today,” he said. “However we are very concerned that Hatch’s proposal for universal health care will lead to dramatically higher taxes.”

In his speech, Hatch was quick to emphasize that his goal achievable without raising taxes.

“I’m not talking about spending money to get universal health care; I’m talking about saving money,” Hatch said. “There’s so much waste.”

Forty percent of what America pays in health insurance coverage goes to administrative costs, he said.

He cited high salaries and unnecessary spending among health providers’ corporate executives as other sources of high health costs to Minnesotans.

If he can “squeeze the costs” and “make this a more accountable system,” Hatch said, universal health care is possible.

He also addressed Minnesota’s lack of mental health clinics and pointed out that for providers, “it’s so easy to deny coverage on mental health.”

Boynton Health Service director Edward Ehlinger said he agrees with Hatch on the point of mental health.

“It’s true there aren’t enough mental health providers,” Ehlinger said. “If they were expanded, providers could broaden their definition of mental health instead of turning some patients away.”

Adding clinics in schools and appointing members to health providers’ boards were other steps Hatch mentioned for improving health care in the state.

Ehlinger said adding government-appointed board members can make an organization more accountable, but “depending on who’s doing the appointing, that can also cut back on the diversity of opinions” in the organization.

Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Humphrey Institute’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, which organized Hatch’s appearance, said the main challenge with Hatch’s ideas is that his goals were vague and his mechanisms for achieving those goals were unclear.

“I think the biggest question mark that was raised was … How do you take the money that he believes he’ll be able to squeeze out of private health insurers and private health providers and bring that back into the delivery of medical care?” Jacobs said. “Those are two very, very different streams.”

Jacobs also speculated that Hatch might not be getting enough staff support.

“I asked him a question about Medicaid, and he was unable to answer it,” Jacobs said. “If you are interested in the pressure on government budgets around healthcare spending, Medicaid is where you should begin and end.”

Hatch’s speech was part of the center’s candidates forum, a summer program in which candidates running for governor and senate speak at the Humphrey Institute on an issue of their choice.

“The only requirement we gave them was that it had to be substantive, not a campaign speech … and no spin,” Jacobs said.

In his opening remarks, Humphrey Institute Dean J. Brian Atwood said, “It’s very important, given how turned off the electorate has become toward negative politics, that we give candidates an opportunity to really talk about the policy issues of the day and make our comparisons on the basis of that.”

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