FREE SPEECH ZONE | America falling further behind in global healthcare

 As we continue to get wrapped around the axle of intricate detail in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now before SCOTUS, we are experiencing a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. While we debate the minutiae of a several thousand page document, and critics such as  Michele Bachman claim it will “infringe on personal liberty,” what we really ought to be discussing is assuring that all our citizens will have affordable and universal health care – just as every developed nation in the world, except one, now provides its citizens!  The one developed nation without universal health care: the United States of America. And the arguments against the insurance mandate are so spurious and weak (when viewed globally), it is surprising they are even challenged. Indeed, that is precisely how the rest of the world is getting healthier, while we lag behind.The United Nations has long had criteria as to what constitutes an “industrialized, developed nation”. There are currently 33 on that list. Continue Reading

Senator Durenberger on health care reform

Former Senator David Durenberger has been involved in health care policy for decades, first as a proponent of HMOs in the 1970s, and more recently as a advocate for national health care reform. He is currently a senior health policy fellow at the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas, and recently spoke to the TC Daily Planet about health care reform and access to health care. This is part of our New Normal coverage on health care.You’ve been involved in the health care debate for a long time. Why are you so interested in the topic?I used to work for a large employer in St. Paul, which, along with another dozen large employers in the Twin Cities decided that the only way to reduce the costs of employee benefits was to deal with the costs of health care, which were out of control. Continue Reading

Join the conversation: Health care in Minnesota

The Twin Cities Daily Planet’s series, The New Normal: Deciding Community Priorities in a Downsized Economy, tackles a different issue each month. In June we’ll be talking about health care, and will ask people in the Twin Cities: “How can we ensure that all Minnesotans have access to good, affordable, dependable health care?”    Come and chat with others over snacks, learn some basics about trends in health care coverage, and let us know how you think we should best expand coverage for all Minnesotans. Whether you’re a health care provider, patient, work in the insurance industry, or a concerned citizen, we want to hear your thoughts on solutions for creating good health care coverage for all Minnesotans. We’ll be using research from the Wilder Foundation’s MN Compass project and an article from the Twin Cities Daily Planet to get this interactive conversation going. By participating in this discussion, though, you’ll provide the part that matters most. Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | Why today’s seniors object to the dissolution of Medicare

Though the Ryan plan to dissolve Medicare in favor of private insurance vouchers now seems moribund, the dynamics of how and why it is being scuttled are worthy of note. Especially to me, a 78 year old senior, who wishes to offer kudos to my peer group. In presenting the plan, Ryan and other conservatives consistently made it clear – the plan would not affect today’s seniors who will remain on Medicare. That was an overt attempt to mollify today’s seniors and elicit their support.  Thankfully, it failed, and did not assuage most of my contemporaries. In fact, to their credit, it was today’s seniors who lead the fight to get this terrible plan set back (and hopefully forgotten forever). Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | Health Care Lawsuit Damages Constitutional Process

The proposed lawsuit to render the new health care reform law “unconstitutional” would be proper, if it were not so transparently political — thus politicizing and damaging a valued judicial process. In Minnesota, as in other states, the tension between a conservative Republican governor (Tim Pawlenty), and a Democratic Attorney General (Lori Swanson) has boiled over to an acrimonious exchange of charges. It reached a high point when in Wednesday’s April 7, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jeff Johnson (Republican candidate for Attorney General in 2006), who has framed the debate for pursuing the suit, attempts to make the case (citing various Constitutional Law) that Swanson, should have joined the suit by 14 other state AGs to void the law on historical legal grounds. Free Speech ZoneThe Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases.Governor Pawlenty had demanded that AG Swanson join the suit. Continue Reading

Obamacare to the rescue on GAMC, maybe

Last year, it was the federal stimulus bill that helped state lawmakers plug a $4.6 billion deficit for the 2010-2011 budget cycle, by increasing funding for education, health and welfare programs.
This year, DFL lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty are both counting on nearly $400 million in increased Medicaid funding to help plug an additional $1 billion hole in the state budget that has since opened up. Even with that, DFLers budget plans still left a big hole in the Health and Human Services budget that was going to have to be filled with painful cuts. Until Congress finally passed its health care reform bill, that is. As a result of that bill, Minnesota could receive up to $330 million in increased federal subsidies for its low- and moderate-income public health insurance programs, General Assistance Medical Care and MinnesotaCare, according to Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth. Huntley, who heads the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division, told Minnesota Public Radio that the additional money will reduce the overall cuts that need to be made to the state’s Health and Human Services budget, from about $323 million to about $100 million. Continue Reading

Rural senators get rolled by metrocentric GAMC fix

This is one example of why there’s resentment sometimes toward the Twin Cities from rural Minnesota.A group of 15 rural Minnesota Senators who had voted to pass an ultimately vetoed attempt to reform and continue the General Assistance Medical Care program ended up opposing a second try, even though it passed easily Thursday.The Senate voted 50-17 to pass SF 460, a bill from Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, that cuts, but preserves the state’s insurance program for its poorest residents in a modified form.The bill was the result of a deal brokered between DFL lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who had vetoed Berglin’s earlier attempt at preserving GAMC.That bill had passed the Senate 47-16, and an override of Pawlenty’s veto passed the Senate on a 45-21 vote, only to fall a few votes shy of success in the House of Representatives.But 15 rural Minnesota Senators who voted yes then voted no this time over concerns that the bill only helps larger hospitals with more GAMC patients, largely in the Twin Cities.The revised bill only compensates 17 hospitals which have more than $1.5 million in annual GAMC patient care per year. Smaller hospitals can apply for GAMC payments down the road but will have to eat the entire cost of treating the poor for now.The 15 Senators who flipped were:Tom Bakk, DFL-CookLisa Fobbe, DFL-PrincetonPaul Koering, R-Fort RipleyKeith Langseth, DFL-GlyndonSteve Murphy, DFL-Red WingRick Olseen, DFL-HarrisMary Olson, DFL-BemidjiYvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-DuluthAnn Rest, DFL-New HopeTom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand RapidsKathy Sheran, DFL-MankatoRod Skoe, DFL-ClearbrookDan Skogen, DFL-HewittDan Sparks, DFL-AustinJim Vickerman, DFL-TracyThey were more than outmatched, however, by Twin Cities-oriented DFL senators who got theirs, and the addition of Republican Senators who had voted against the first bill but supported the second one’s reduced price tag.A companion bill in the House of Representatives from Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, is headed for a vote next week. Continue Reading

Better Know a Committee: House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight

In the first of what I hope will be a recurring feature for Capitol Report, we will try to explain what it is that committees in the Minnesota Legislature do by looking at them one at a time. Today, we’ll start with the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee.One of two committees in the House of Representatives dealing with health care and the state’s human services programs, the committee is headed up by Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.The 20-member committee currently has 13 DFL members and 7 Republicans. The lead Republican on the committee is Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.Unlike the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division, which puts together the portion of the state government budget dealing with the state’s public health care programs, welfare and social services, Thissen’s committee is concerned with “improving programs, more efficiently deliver services, and have an overall positive impact on the health and wellbeing of Minnesota families,” he said.”Minnesotans understand that we have a moral obligation to one another, and I am proud to chair a committee that seeks to fulfill that obligation by protecting and empowering the most vulnerable among us,” Thissen said.Thissen, who has been chairman of the committee since DFLers took control of the House in 2006 and is also seeking the DFL Party endorsement to run for Governor this year, said his committee was a key player in passing a health care overhaul bill in 2008 and to extend health insurance coverage to 20,000 Minnesota children in 2009.Committee members visited rural hospitals last year to learn about the impact of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment of funding for the General Assistance Medical Care program for Minnesota’s poorest citizens.Among the many bills coming in front of the committee this year, there is Thissen’s own bill to extend the same health care decision-making rights to domestic partnerships as to married couples. The committee recommended its passage.At its Wednesday meeting, the committee will hear a bill from Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, that would prohibit smoking in a vehicle transporting a child under age 18. Other bills on the agenda deal with public health care eligibility, mental health policy for treating children, modifying the state’s welfare program and more.The committee meets at 2:45 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in Room 200 of the State Office Building. Continue Reading