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Guest Column: ONECare MN offers real relief for family farmers and people all across Minnesota

Guest Column by Tony Lourey and Gery Wertish

Tony Lourey

 

Every Minnesotan should be able to access affordable, comprehensive health coverage when they need it. Yet, in round tables and town hall meetings across the state, Minnesotans are sharing a very different reality.

In fact, far too many Minnesotans face unsustainable health care premiums totaling nearly half their yearly income. Far too many are making impossible choices between seeking care or paying for rent or putting food on the table. And far too many are forced to forgo health care coverage, living just one injury or illness away from bankruptcy — or in the case of farmers, losing a farm they’ve had in their family for generations.

High health care costs are hitting Minnesota farmers particularly hard as they also struggle with low prices for their products, unpredictable weather, a costly trade war and rising input costs. All this contributes to the lowest median farm income in three decades — or since the University of Minnesota Extension started collecting that data. With few choices or competition in the individual market, high health care costs are causing many to consider giving up the family farm to work somewhere with employer-sponsored health coverage, or to go without coverage altogether.

Gary Wertish

Minnesota’s uninsured rate is on the rise. Between 2015 and 2017, the state saw one of the largest one-time increases in the number of people without health insurance, with the uninsured rate rising from 4.3 to 6.3 percent. This means approximately 349,000 Minnesotans are going without health care coverage, with the highest rate of increase in uninsured happening in rural Minnesota. Parts of northwest and west central Minnesota — where many communities rely on the agricultural economy — have uninsured rates upwards of 10 percent.

This is unacceptable. We can and must do better.

Gov. Tim Walz has offered a path forward with his ONECare MN proposal. The plan focuses on areas where we know health care isn’t working for Minnesotans: affordability, prescription drug costs, comprehensive coverage options statewide and dental access.

The plan works to bring down premiums for those without employer-sponsored coverage, including many family farmers, through state subsidies and tax credits and by leveraging the state’s purchasing power to negotiate drug pricing and increase transparency of prescription drug costs. ONECare creates a comprehensive coverage option that allows Minnesotans to buy into a health plan with a broad provider network, giving them a real option to choose their doctor, with access to dental, vision and behavioral health services. Lastly, ONECare ensures consumer choice throughout Minnesota by creating additional health plan options in any region of the state where the market fails to offer real choices.

Let’s be clear: This is not a government takeover of health insurance. ONECare works to fix areas where our current health care system is not working and ensures that all Minnesotans, regardless of where they live, have access to coverage by enhancing the individual market and being an option when it fails.

We know that Medicare, Medicaid and MinnesotaCare programs serve as lifelines for many rural hospitals and communities. ONECare helps ensure that payments to health care providers build on what Medicare pays so providers get more of their payment upfront without having to chase down money from patients or take on more bad debt, which ultimately falls on other patients or taxpayers.

ONECare invests in the health and economic well-being of our future. We know from experience that covering more people means more jobs and more contributions to our economy. Minnesota has a long history of investing in the health of its citizens. It’s time to continue that legacy. For family farmers, small businesses and many others, it’s becoming critical that we do just that. 

Tony Lourey is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Gary Wertish is president of the Minnesota Farmers Union.