Making a bold promise on health care, and keeping it


Two years ago, Massachusetts made national headlines for passing “universal health care” legislation. In reality, they did no such thing.

Even proponents of the Massachusetts plan admit it will not cover everyone. They are hoping only that 95% of the people will eventually have some form of insurance. And their legislation does not help families who have insurance but still cannot get needed medical care.

In Minnesota and around the country, politicians talk about healthcare for everyone. But the reform proposals most of them work on fall far short of their promise.

The health care crisis is getting worse. Minnesota’s record is better than most states, but out of 5 million Minnesotans, about 400,000 do not have any health insurance, and over a million more are people with insurance who still cannot afford to pay their medical bills due to co-payments, deductibles, and treatment not covered by their insurance.

About a third of the population puts off needed medical care because of difficulty paying the bills. There are serious consequences, often deadly ones, when people don’t get the care they need. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the lack of health coverage results in about 18,000 deaths per year in the U.S. That’s six times as many people as died in the September 11th attacks.

After watching governors and legislators study the health care problem year after year, and seeing only patches applied to our broken system, I believe it is time for Minnesota to make a bold commitment to fix the problem.

We are long overdue for real health care reform. Before mapping out a reform strategy it is important to set the direction where we are headed. We want to make sure every Minnesotan gets health care. We want to make sure they get the care they need, including things like dental care. And we want to improve public health so people don’t need as much medical care.

Along with over 50 other legislators, I have authored legislation to reach those goals.

Our proposal would create the MN Health Plan, a single, statewide plan that would cover all Minnesotans for all their medical needs. Equally important, it would reduce the need for costly medical care through prevention and early intervention, education, and public health programs.

Under the plan, patients would be able to see the doctor of their choice, and their coverage would not end when they lose their job or switch to a new employer. Dental care, prescription drugs, optometry, mental health services, chemical dependency treatment, medical equipment and supplies would all be covered.

Consumers would stay with the same doctors and medical professionals, the same hospitals and clinics, with all payments being made by the MN Health Plan (MHP). There would be no complex application forms, no worrying about pre-existing conditions disqualifying anyone, no worrying about whether the needed treatment was covered, and no problem of patients going without their prescriptions.

The MN Health Plan would be prohibited from reducing the quality of care, or restricting, delaying, or denying it to save money. Instead it would lower health spending through prevention, efficiency and the elimination of unnecessary paperwork. The MHP would return medical decision-making to the doctor and patient, removing health insurance companies from determining treatment.

Everyone would pay for the plan, based on their ability to pay. Their premiums would cover all health care costs, replacing current premiums, as well as co-payments, deductibles, payments for care not currently covered, and the costs of existing government health care programs.

Covering everyone will cost less, not more. This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you recognize that people without insurance eventually get care in emergency rooms or hospitals with costly treatments that are ultimately paid by everyone else. With all of the cost-shifting and disputes about who is responsible for which costs, about 30 cents of each health care dollar is spent on administration.

The MN Health Plan would save money in five major ways, by:

• reducing administrative costs
• helping people use health care services appropriately
• negotiating fair prices with drug companies and medical providers
• avoiding excess capacity of costly equipment
• focusing on prevention and early intervention

Although the MN Health Plan is not inexpensive, it is significantly less costly than our current system and would provide care to everyone.

There are other health reform proposals being considered at the Capitol, but no other plan covers every Minnesotan, no other plan addresses the affordability problems of people who have insurance, and no other plan costs less than our present system.

The MN Health Plan will face strong opposition from insurance companies, drug companies and others. We are preparing for a three- or four-year effort to pass the legislation.

People are tired of wasting hours filling out complex medical insurance and billing forms and they recognize that insurance marketing, underwriting, billing, and million dollar executive salaries add huge costs to our health care system. People also understand that it is less costly to prevent heart disease, premature births, and dental infections than it is to ignore them. People realize that they are overcharged for medical services and supplies because there is no one to negotiate a fair price for them. And most people believe that everyone should have access to health care.

The MN Health Plan will address all of these problems and give us a health care system that serves Minnesota well.

Senator Marty’s columns are provided by the Apple Pie Alliance, On Feb. 20, the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee, on a bipartisan vote, passed the bill to create the MN Health Plan. The legislation must pass through several committees of both Houses before it can go to a floor vote.