Minnesota Care is not enough


“I don’t have insurance right now,” my friend admitted. “So I’m being really careful to eat right and exercise, and so far I’ve been lucky.” My friend is pushing 60, so her luck has to hold for a little more than five years. She can’t afford thousands of dollars a month to purchase a private health insurance policy and, given her age and health history, would have a really hard time getting coverage. She is one of many Minnesotans who make too much money for Minnesota Care but have no available employment-based health insurance coverage.

Today 383,000 Minnesotans, including 68,000 children remain uninsured. That’s no private health care insurance. No Medicare or Medicaid. No Minnesota Care. Nothing.

Minnesotans, though, fare better than the rest of the country. Across the United States, 47 million people live without health care insurance, including 9 million children.

Sunday I listened to State Senator Linda Berglin (DFL) and State Representative Paul Thissen (DFL) and Cal Ludeman, representing the Pawlenty administration, talk about health insurance at a public forum. Their earnest discussion was enough to make your eyes glaze over. Do we want 175% of poverty level or 200% of poverty level? Expanded section 125 pre-tax plans? Q-Care standards? Promotion of portability of health insurance coverage? It was enough to make your eyes glaze over. And nothing they said would help my friend.

“All over the place, people are refusing to take wages or cutting their hours so they can stay in Minnesota Care.” Senator Linda Berglin said. Minnesota Care has lots of problems, starting with a 26-page enrollment form that has to be filled out twice a year. Even so, it provides one of the few opportunities for sort-of-affordable health care for thousands of Minnesotans. Her health care legislation would do a lot to improve and expand Minnesota Care, and it should pass. But that is not enough.

We need a national health-care program. We need it now. We need it so badly that even Wal-Mart, AT&T, Intel, Kelly Service and other businesses have formed a coalition with SEIU and the Communication Workers of America to call for national, universal health care coverage.

Insurance companies are the least effective way to finance health care. They are the reason that the United States has the highest per-person health care cost in the world, and still doesn’t provide universal health care coverage.

Think about every dollar you spend on healthcare: one-third of it now goes to the insurance companies for their profits, their administration, their advertising, their lobbyists, so if we take that one-third that we’re now spending on spurious — we don’t need them, we don’t need the insurance companies –and that would cover literally everybody who is uncovered in the United States for a lot less money and provide for the kind of system that most countries in the world, most of the advanced countries in the world, enjoy. Marilyn Clement, National Coordinator of Healthcare-NOW!, speaking on Democracy Now, 2/9/07

Publicly-administered health care plans—like Medicare, which covers all people over the age of 65—deliver medical care at a lower cost than private health care insurance.

Publicly-funded, universal health care coverage is the right thing to do. People are suffering, people are dying because they cannot afford health care. The number of uninsured in the United states has risen by nine million since 2000.

Publicly-funded, universal health care coverage is good for business. It would cut employer costs far more than any tax break proposed by the Bush administration and it would help make U.S. business more competitive internationally. Think about it. Employers in countries with universal public health care do not pay any health insurance costs. That automatically lowers their labor costs.

This is not just a healthcare crisis, this is a business crisis. By next year, health benefit costs will exceed profits in the Fortune 500 companies, and if we look at companies like Starbucks, they’re spending more on health benefits than coffee beans. It’s no longer just a healthcare crisis, it’s an economic crisis. Jeanne Lambrew, Senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an associate professor at George Washington University, speaking on Democracy Now, 1/9/07.

Minnesota can and does do a lot of good work on health care, but it cannot do the whole job. What we need is UNIVERSAL, publicly-funded and administered health care coverage. That can only happen if it happens nationwide.