Single-payer health plan could create savings, more choices for Minnesotans

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Several members of the Minnesota Legislature have embarked on a mission to build political support for the Minnesota Health Plan, a proposal that would create a central entity to manage the health insurance of every Minnesotan. The proponents of the plan say it would reduce health insurance premiums, provide universal coverage, reduce health care costs in the state by 20 percent, provide greater freedom of choice, end employer-tied insurance and increase preventative health.

This weekend, legislators took the plan to seven Minnesota cities: Duluth, Bemidji, Northfield, Winona, Hibbing, Brainerd and Mankato. The plan is ambitious and would fundamentally change how health insurance is managed in Minnesota, but proponents say that change is welcome and needed in a system that needs a lot of work.

Rep. Shelley Madore, DFL-Apple Valley, spoke about her experiences at a press conference at the State Capitol on Monday and while touring the state. Two of her children were diagnosed with disabling medical conditions, and after one underwent a $60,000 surgery, she was told it wasn’t covered by her insurance plan.

“For those Minnesotans that think they are insured, I challenge them to go back and read their health insurance policy and see what is not covered, because insurance is great until you really need it. And that’s the lesson that I learned and the reason I decided to run for the state Legislature.”

The Minnesota Health Plan would essentially take health insurance out of the private sector and have the state run the system. Everyone would pay premiums according to their ability to pay.

“One of the problems that our rural hospitals have is that under the current system, unlike what is being proposed here, we have so many different payment rates depending on who’s paying,” Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, told a group gathered in that city. “The government is not paying enough for poor people’s health care, which is why it is so hard for them to get access to health care.

“But basically it’s not the government paying those bills, it’s taxpayers who are paying those bills. In order to raise those rates, you have to raise taxes to pay for them.”

senjohnmarty.JPGSen. John Marty outlined the ways the plan, which already has the support of one-fourth of the Legislature, would save money for both the government, clinics and health care consumers.

“The plan would save money though administrative efficiency. It avoids insurance company marketing and underwriting costs. It saves doctors who have to have three to four billing clerks in every clinic. It saves money by price negotiation. It saves money through prevention and early intervention. It saves money by ending the technology arms race; not every corner clinic needs an MRI machine.”

Madore and Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, said that not only are there cost savings to be had in a centralized insurance system, but there are benefits outside that system as well, including greater clinic and doctor choice and more flexibility in career choice.

“This is a public-private partnership, not a state-run medical system,” said Bly. “The insurance plans that you have are often networked, and they don’t allow you to go outside the network to see the doctor you want to see. And people change jobs and have a new system and have to see a doctor they’ve never seen before. We want people to have those kinds of choices in the clinic or doctor they want to go to.”

Madore said that for many disabled Minnesotans, who constitute 14 percent of Minnesota’s adult population under age 65 and are often denied coverage due to preexisting condition clauses, the plan would lead to greater independence. “We haven’t addressed the need to move these people out of poverty and into working jobs and allowing them to be able to stay in jobs,” she said. “We have people with late onset diagnosis of things like Parkinson’s and MS. People are forced to leave their jobs in their forties.” For many, health insurance doesn’t cover many needs and people are forced to quit their job, sell off their assets — sometimes even their homes — so that they can qualify for government aid and get the health care they need.

“They cannot contribute back as a taxpayer and become classified as what is called health care welfare recipients,” said Madore. “I do believe when we allow health care to not be tied to employment, self-determination is brought back and we will reduce a significant cost in social programs.”

The added side effect of health insurance not being tied to employment means more freedom for employers as well. “I think you’ll see Minnesota will become a job magnet,” she said. “People will be able to determine what they want to do with their lives” as they won’t have to stay at a certain job or in a particular career just to keep health benefits.

Marty said that while they think they have a great proposal, it will take a few years to catch on. In the meantime, the legislators are open to looking at short-term options as well and proposals that can have a similar impact on cost savings, choice and increasing prevention.

More information on the bill can be found at www.mnhealthplan.org.

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