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Minnesota Lobbyists and Senators Face Off over Health Bill

Thursday, February 12, 2009 by: Kathlyn Stone
Tags: health care, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) If passed, the Minnesota Health Care Act would eliminate insurance companies and for-profit administrators from the state`s health care system. It would also be the first truly universal no-strings-attached health care system in the United States.

The bill received its first hearing Jan. 26 in the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee, chaired by Democrat John Marty, lead author of the bill, and was passed out of the committee on an 8-5 party line vote. Just as senators and business association spokeswomen debated the merits of the Minnesota Health Care Act, more U.S. companies were announcing tens of thousands of job lay-offs. Mounting job losses were claimed as a talking point for those in support and those in opposition to the plan.

The universal single-payer plan would require a major shift in the administration and budgeting of health care. In order to pass, it must also inspire a shift in conventional thinking about the role of health care.

This bill, with 25 co-authors, is a more detailed and concrete iteration of the single-payer plan Marty introduced last year.

Tagging the current system "a patchwork mess," Marty said the overhaul plan would cover everyone while controlling costs for businesses and individuals. Cost savings would come through the elimination of layers of for-profit and non-profit administrators including health maintenance organizations (HMOs), insurance companies, in-house hospital and clinic staff devoted to billing and collections, marketing costs, and companies that exist solely to help individuals maneuver through the system. Further savings would come through as a provision for buying drugs and medical supplies in bulk, at negotiated prices.

Together, these administrative costs are responsible for 31 cents of every dollar spent on health care, and they divert actual delivery of health care away from people, said Marty.

Under his bill, more resources would be funneled directly to people for quality care, preventative care, dental care, mental health care and prescriptions. There would be no more restrictions on pre-existing conditions and denial of claims would be a thing of the past. The new system would be under the authority of a 15-member board with representation from different regions of the state, chosen by county officials.

The plan "treats health care like a community good, like police, fire and schools," said Marty.

That`s socialism, according to some business lobbyists who spoke in opposition.

Beth McMullin, health policy director for the Minnesota Business Partnership, said her organization`s members include the 10 largest companies in the state. The group is committed to a "market-based, patient-centered" system, she said, and would oppose a single payer system under "government control."

Stacia Smith, director of workforce and health policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber opposes a "government-run" health system, but said the business group is committed to discussions on other health reform proposals.

Julie Brunner, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, was more sympathetic to the senator`s plan but said a "public-private" reform approach is in everyone`s best interest.

Twila Brase, president of the Citizens` Council on Health Care, a group that lobbies for "free markets" in health care, says the group "does not support socialized medicine" because it discourages innovation and "promises something it cannot provide."

McMullin added: "In this economy, when everyone is concerned about jobs, this would drive jobs away."

Committee member Sen. David Hann raised the question of job losses under the plan.

Along with provisions for retraining dislocated workers, Marty said the bill would give dislocated health care workers something other laid-off workers haven`t had -- health care.

Marty further defended the plan by saying the goal of reform is to "design a health care system to provide health care, not [give] jobs to people."

But questions remain, primarily on financing, such as: What will premiums cost individuals? How much will businesses be taxed? Specific costs are unknown, said Marty, adding that researching and compiling a cost-analysis report would cost half a million dollars, something the state hasn`t authorized. A foundation is working on a report, said Marty.

Advocates of the plan were elated when Sen. Linda Berglin, a Minneapolis Democrat who chairs the Senate`s powerful health finance division and a leading health care policy expert, recently signed on as a co-sponsor to the bill, something she didn`t do last year.

"I do support value-based [market-based] purchasing of health care, but I don`t think it works if you have more and more people each year who don`t have the ability to afford to purchase it," said Berglin.

Another health measure re-introduced this session is the Minnesota Health Security Act. This bill does not eliminate health insurance but takes a two-phased approach to expanding health insurance. Based on the Children`s Health Security Act passed by the House in 2007, the act mandates affordable and comprehensive insurance coverage for all children by 2010, and extends insurance coverage to all adults till 2012.

Under this plan, adults would pay no more than 5 percent of their household income on health care coverage. Marty`s committee heard the Health Security Act bill on Wed., Jan. 28.

Berglin has also introduced the "Cover all Kids" health insurance bill. The bill allows children of families whose parents have access, but can`t afford private insurance, to become eligible for MinnesotaCare, a state subsidized program for working residents who do not have access to affordable health insurance.

Sources:
Minnesota Health Care Act - http://tinyurl.com/dg9ov7
Minnesota Health Security Act - http://tinyurl.com/bh6mzq

About the author

Kathlyn Stone is an independent journalist in St. Paul, MN covering health care news and policies for public and professional audiences. She is the publisher of FleshandStone.net.

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