My Point of View: Who’s isn’t afraid to take on major health care issues?

Published 10:00 pm Monday, June 18, 2018

My Point of View, By Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Can you guess the No. 1 concern that farmers shared at the Minnesota Farmers Union’s listening sessions in seven rural Minnesota cities this spring?

Not taxes. Not burdensome agricultural regulations.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

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Health care costs.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about health care as being a kind of tax. The costs are confusing and non-transparent. It’s a drag on both families and businesses. It’s a major cost input for farmers, and a barrier for people to enter farming or other self-employment.

Taxes and regulations were never my parents’ top concern when I was a kid either. It was always, year in and year out, health insurance and health care expenses. They were farmers on the individual market who paid as much as they could afford for a high-deductible plan. They could have been uninsured with no penalties back then, but they thought it was too risky, especially since our whole family worked with machinery.

Now, thankfully, they’re on Medicare. My dad was also fortunate to receive VA care before he turned 65. I often question, though, why one year serving in Vietnam for Uncle Sam made him eligible for health care benefits that decades of working in one of the riskiest occupations to help feed our nation did not.

For younger farmers, it’s scandalous that health care costs are perhaps an even bigger concern today. Having no large pool to join when there are mandates to buy insurance has made the situation untenable. The public option, which would have provided a larger pool, didn’t make it into the Affordable Care Act. Why was it too political for people to have that choice?

So many people remain in the outrageous place of choosing to pay a penalty because they can’t afford $25,000 or more in insurance premiums, or not being able to go to the doctor after they’ve spent all their money on high-deductible plans.

And when they do have to seek care, they may not be able to pay, whether they have insurance or not. This often ends up being uncompensated care for health care providers, and it impacts rural hospitals with smaller margins the most.

From its listening sessions, Minnesota Farmers Union summarized that there was almost universal support for some kind of public option, such as a MinnesotaCare buy-in. Many participants went beyond that and supported a single-payer system.

During this past legislative session, Republicans refused to give the MinnesotaCare buy-in option a hearing. No health experts were asked to testify on it, no rural hospital administrators were invited to share their perspectives. Rep. Matt Dean, chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, deliberately called it MinnesotaCare “for all” to make it sound like it was a single-payer idea instead of a public option.

What Dean blatantly ignores is that a slim majority of Americans already favor a single-payer plan.

Furthermore, an omnibus bill in the Minnesota House had language that would have blocked the Department of Health from even considering a MinnesotaCare buy-in option. Rep. Clark Johnson of North Mankato offered an amendment that would have removed that language, and the debate on the House floor was revealing.

Rep. Peggy Bennett blamed public programs like MinnesotaCare for Albert Lea’s lost hospital services and said that expanding MinnesotaCare would “basically shut down rural Minnesota.” She followed Rep. Dean’s deceptive lead and referred to the buy-in option as MinnesotaCare “for all.”

Let’s be clear. We’re not losing our inpatient hospital services in Albert Lea because of MinnesotaCare. We are losing our hospital services because Mayo, a $12 billion nonprofit with an operating margin of $707 million last year, decided it could make more money consolidating services instead of providing community care.

It should be no surprise that Mayo’s “bold vision for the future of Minnesota” to double Rochester’s size does not include putting heads in Albert Lea hospital beds. We need a state representative who is willing to call a spade a spade on this critically important issue.

Both Reps. Tina Liebling and Erin Murphy did call out Mayo for closing Albert Lea’s hospital in that debate. Murphy said, “…Mayo doesn’t want to expend those costs anymore. And they don’t really care that much about what it means for people that live in (Albert Lea) if they have to go to another community for their care. And we’re not really wrestling with that.”

So, who’s afraid to take on powerful corporate interests that don’t want the Legislature to consider a public option, much less a single-payer plan, for rural Minnesotans? Our state representative shouldn’t be.

The Freeborn County DFL picnic is this evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Edgewater Park’s little cottage. Guest speakers include Terry Gjersvik for House 27A, Jeanne Poppe for House 27B and Dan Feehan for the 1st District congressional seat.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.