Who is Transforming Minnesota’s Health Care?


Pawlenty appoints health care task force, most of whom support a market-driven fix for health care system.

At the end of June, Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed 13 Minnesotans to the Health Care Transformation Task Force, a working group tasked with creating “a statewide action plan for transforming the health care system to improve affordability, quality, access, and the health status of Minnesotans.” The task force is mandated by the 2007 Omnibus Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill signed into law this spring.

The task force members include financial contributors to Democrats and Republicans, a former candidate for lieutenant governor and for state senator and a large number of health care executives. Even a former fast-food executive is charged with transforming Minnesota’s health care systems.

While the task force covers a broad range of voices in the health care industry, a majority of the task force members back “consumer driven health care,” a movement that seeks to end employer coverage and shift health care responsibility to employees. Consumer driven health care made news when President Bush announced his health care plan that includes tax breaks for health savings accounts and higher deductible insurance, among other features. Consumer driven health care is the market-based fix proposed by a number of Republican candidates for president.

Here is some background on members of the Health Care Transformation Task Force:

Pete Benner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. Currently, he is special assistant to the director of AFSCME. Benner was also executive director of the Minnesota State Employee Union. Benner has contributed money to a number of Democratic candidates.

Dr. Charlie Fazio is the chief medical officer and senior vice president of medical insurer Medica. Fazio has been involved with the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI) which helps to improve efficiency and quality in the health care insustry. Before Medica, Fazio was medical director of the Central Minnesota Group Health Plan, a medical insurer in St. Cloud.

Tom Forsythe is vice president of corporate communications for General Mills Inc. He’s also chairman of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Speaking for the board, he said, “The best option, as we see it, is to try to make our health-care system actually function as a market. We need to empower and engage consumers.” Forsythe is part of Better Health Care Together, a partnership of labor unions and business with the goal to “end the nation’s reliance on employer-backed health insurance and develop a system for providing universal low-cost coverage within five years.” He has also been part of the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform, whose goal “is to advance meaningful, market-based solutions to our nation’s health-care crisis.”

Michael Howe is president and CEO of Minute Clinic, a company that creates retail-based medical clinics in malls, grocery stores and other commercial areas to provide medical care for minor ailments. Before Minute Clinic, Howe was president and CEO of Arby’s and has executive experience at KFC, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and Unilever. Last fall he spoke with President Bush about Minute Clinic and its strategy to reduce health-care costs.

Sean Kershaw is president of the Citizens League. Before that, he was deputy director for the city of St. Paul’s Department of Planning and Economic Development. He’s one of the few openly gay people appointed by Pawlenty.

Paula Klinger is president of Hopkins Education Association, where she serves on the district’s insurance committee. Hopkins Independent School Organization’s employees employees are self-insured.

Charles Montreuil is vice president of corporate human resources at Carlson Companies and also serves an advisory board for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. Montreuil has been in charge of changes to Carlson Companies’ shift to consumer-driven health care. “We’ve made our employees into consumers,” says Montreuil. “They need to look at cost and quality in making their choices.”

Dr. Maureen Reed, a fellow of the American College of Physicians, was Independence Party candidate for lieutenant governor with Peter Hutchinson in 2006. Reed was also a medical director for Health Partners, a medical insurer, a regent of the University of Minnesota and a contributor to Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992.

David Wessner is president and chief executive officer of Park Nicollet Health Services. He was responsible for increasing efficiency and quality at Park Nicollet by modeling Japanese automobile assembly lines. He is contributor to the campaign of Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and has previously donated to the Republican National Committee.

Dr. R. Scott Wright is a professor of medicine and cardiology at the Mayo Clinic and was the Republican candidate for the Minnesota Senate in 2006, when he campaigned heavily on health care. The Wright for Senate Committee wrote after Wright won the GOP nomination: “He campaigned on a platform of lowering health care costs using consumer-driven and focused innovation to reign in soaring health care costs while empowering individuals to have more control over their health care dollars.”

Wright is a consultant for Pfizer and Merck-Scherling Plough pharmaceutical companies, and is also a senior health care policy fellow for the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank in Minneapolis.

Katherine Kersten, who also has been involved with CAE, wrote of Wright, “Wright suspects that a single-payer system “would be run with the compassion of the IRS and the efficiency of Katrina disaster relief.”

Tony Miller is managing partner of Lemhi Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in health care businesses and was the CEO of Definity Health Corp before it was purchased by United Health. Definity takes credit for launching consumer driven health care: “We pioneered the original consumer-driven benefit featuring the Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) that has seen rapid adoption among employers and employees.”

Carolyn Jones is a senior policy adviser in the office of Gov. Pawlenty and was director of health, transportation and small business policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.