We’re not ready to pass universal health, says legislator

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“Timing-wise and politically-wise, we just weren’t ready to pass universal health care in Minnesota,” said State Rep. Ken Tschumper (DFL-La Crescent). “We think the level of public acceptance for a single-payer system needs to be worked on,” Tschumper said.

Both Sen. John Marty’s (DFL-Roseville) “Minnesota Health Care Act” and Tschumper’s companion bill in the House did not make it to a vote before the full Legislature this session. Marty’s bill was killed in committee by an 8–3 margin and Tschumper’s bill never got a hearing.

“The committee chair [Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis), chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee] is an author of one of the other insurance-friendly health care reform bills currently in the Legislature,” Tschumper said. Health care reform bills, like the one championed by Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Minneapolis), have the best chance of becoming law this year. Berglin’s bill would insure more, but not all, Minnesotans through both private and public systems.

“Single-payer, right now politically, is not realistic,” Berglin said. “I don’t believe we could have passed single-payer,” she said, “not with a governor who doesn’t want to pay for any of the legislation we put before him.” Passage of her own health care bill has been imperiled because Gov. Pawlenty “keeps changing what he wants,” Berglin said, and has a reluctance to increase the number of Minnesotans insured under her plan.

The reduction or elimination of high administration costs in privately-operated managed care systems is what proponents of universal health care say is essential to achieve the cost reductions that will make health care affordable for everyone. The single-payer, universal health care plans promoted by Marty and Tschumper would insure every Minnesotan on a pay-for-service basis.

According to the State Senate news service, Sen. Marty offered an amendment to Berglin’s bill, which would have removed Health Care Transformation Commission provisions, administrative portions of the bill that may actually increase health care costs. Sen. Mary Olson (DFL-Bemidji) testified about her growing concern about administrative costs in the health care system. She compared the measure to the No Child Left Behind Act, in that the bill tries to measure outcomes and lead to unintended consequences like consumers paying more. In the end, Marty’s amendment was defeated by one vote.

“We single payer advocates are putting our energy into raising concerns about the health care reform bill,” Tschumper said. “We want to remove the most detrimental aspects of current legislation, like a provision that would require people to pay a certain amount for packaged services.”

“The health care reform still being debated is warmed-over managed care,” Tschumper said. “We need to build up public support and advocacy to counteract the special interests inside the health care insurance industry,” he said. Tschumper made changing the health care system a primary issue in his 2006 election campaign and joined several Minnesota legislators this year in leading a statewide health care reform tour featuring town hall meetings to discuss the health care crisis in Minnesota.

“We’re trying to make sure the least objectionable version of a health care bill is the one that gets passed,” Tschumper said. “And as far as the single payer bill, we’ll definitely introduce it next year.”