Health insurance solutions scare

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 23, 2001

Freeborn County residents say they want compassionate, fair health care that is reasonably priced.

Friday, March 23, 2001

Freeborn County residents say they want compassionate, fair health care that is reasonably priced. How to get it is another question altogether.

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With solutions ranging from a single-payer public health system to total free-market health care, about 30 people attended a town hall meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue with former U.S. Representative Tim Penny and representatives from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Penny and Blue Cross employees are holding a series of meetings to listen for themes and common solutions to health care issues, to develop a recommendation to the state legislature for meaningful health care reform.

Only 3.3 percent of southeastern Minnesotans are uninsured – about one-third the national rate, Penny said. Group employer-based coverage is on the rise, and much higher in this area than other rural parts of the state.

But health care costs have risen because we are a graying society that has come to demand more services, Penny said.

&uot;Part of the problem is the baby boomers like me, we’re getting older and we’re starting to break down,&uot; he said.

New medical technologies and drugs can be very expensive, and people are more likely to seek medical attention for minor problems than they have been in the past, he said.

A random sample of Minnesotans said they wanted in health care to be fair, compassionate and market driven with a priority on individual choice.

&uot;The problem is virtually all of these principles are internally inconsistent,&uot; Penny said.

Several people said they want a system that rewards them for their healthy lifestyle choices, and covers preventative screenings.

&uot;I think in the long run the insurance companies will save a lot of money,&uot; one woman in the audience said.

Because they have insurance, people don’t ask about the cost of treatment, said Dr. George Lundstrom of Albert Lea. Doctors and hospitals don’t have to justify their costs or provide cheaper alternatives because of insurance coverage.

&uot;They just waive their hand and say don’t worry, someone else is going to pay for it,&uot; he said.

A market-driven system would encourage people to shop around for health care and consider the cost of treatment, he said.

&uot;Now (doctors would be) working for you, and it’s not the insurance company that’s cutting the check,&uot; he said. &uot;As a patient, I’d rather have the doctor working for me than the insurance company,&uot;

Don Gooden of rural Freeborn County endorsed the opposite approach.

&uot;My whole solution to this is single payer,&uot; Gooden said. &uot;We have the system in place, all we have to do is fund it.&uot;

The Medicare system could be modified to provide public health to everyone, Gooden said. It would cost less and be more equitable, he said.

&uot;I think that insurance should be covered … from the day you’re born until the day you die,&uot; another man said. &uot;I want insurance. Period. I want health insurance.&uot;

Most industrialized nations do have a public health system, Penny said. On average, those systems do cost less than private insurance systems. In the United States, 12 percent of the gross domestic product is dedicated to health care; in most private systems only 8 or 9 percent of the gross domestic product goes to health care, he said.

But research has indicated that Minnesotans don’t want a single-payer system, Penny said.