Column: Real health care solutions are available now

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 12, 2008

By Paul Thissen, Guest Column

Minnesotans are struggling with the heavy burden of health care in every corner of our state. Over the last several months I heard the same health care worries in Benson and Hibbing, Little Falls and Crystal, Minneapolis and Jackson and elsewhere across the state.

Two facts have leapt out from those discussions. First, health care is unaffordable for a rapidly growing number of Minnesota families. Second, the need for a meaningful solution is urgent. A loud cry for health care reform is coming from Republicans and Democrats, from urban, suburban and rural families. People are getting sicker and in some cases dying because state decision-makers have lacked the will, the energy, or the compassion to transform our health care system. The time for political maneuvering and ideology is long past.

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Fears that health care will someday overwhelm family budgets are well justified. A recent report from Families USA only confirms what so many of us are already experiencing: one in five Minnesotans &8212; over 1 million of us &8212; are paying more than 10 percent of our income for health care. Nearly a quarter million Minnesotans with insurance pay over 25 percent of their income for health care!

Traveling around the state also confirmed for me that unaffordable health care is not just a problem for people in poverty. It affects thousands of middle class families, small businesses and farmers. Minnesotans understand that rising health care costs are at the bottom of the gnawing economic insecurity we all feel. It is time the governor and legislators on both sides of the aisle catch up with their constituents.

Of course, it is easy enough to complain that we face a crisis of affordability.

What we rarely hear are real solutions &8212; until now.

The Legislature has worked for several months in a bipartisan manner to create a meaningful health care reform package that will lower costs, make health care more affordable for Minnesotans with insurance, extend coverage to the uninsured, and transform the health care system so that it meets the needs of patients, not insurance plans or bureaucrats.

Making sure Minnesotans have affordable health care choices is the key to the plan. We propose to establish a clear standard that middle class families should pay no more than 8 percent to 10 percent of their annual income for health care. A focus on cutting administrative costs, improving how care is delivered, and reducing smoking and obesity will bring down the price of health insurance and make it more affordable for everyone. New partnerships between government and private employers can help Minnesotans bridge any remaining gap between the actual cost of health coverage and the affordability standard.

Under the proposal, Minnesotans will no longer be discriminated against just for being sick. Eliminating discrimination based past or current ailments will spread the risk of health crises and make health care more affordable, especially for older Minnesotans between age 50 and 65, for whom it is often least affordable now.

Finally, we need to change the way care is delivered. Our proposal encourages doctors and nurses to work in partnership with their patients to prevent disease and manage chronic conditions. That is what we all want from our providers &8212; and it turns out it saves money as well.

When chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes account for up to 83 percent of health care spending, it is obvious that the best way to lower overall costs is to help Minnesotans with chronic diseases manage their health.

These are all real solutions, reached through a very public and bipartisan process that started in June. These reforms give us an opportunity to make needed transformative changes to Minnesota&8217;s health care system. As work continues throughout the upcoming legislative session, please write to the governor, your state representative and state senator and ask them to support our bipartisan efforts on health care reform.

Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, is the chairman of the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee.