Senate Dems propose expansion of health care coverageby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
Senate health committee leaders released details Wednesday on one of their more ambitious health care proposals this session. The plan would insure tens of thousands of Minnesotans immediately, cap all insurance premium increases, and seek a constitutional amendment requiring health insurance for all Minnesotans by the year 2010.
St. Paul, Minn. — The bill is one of several proposals this session intended to reduce the ranks of the estimated 383,000 Minnesotans who are uninsured. Senate author Linda Berglin says in the short term, her bill would give priority to the people who need coverage the most -- low-income kids and adults.
To that end, she wants to make it easier for people to enroll in MinnesotaCare, the state subsidized health insurance program.
"One of the things that the bill will change is this 26-page form, that you practically need to either have an accountant or an attorney to help you fill out. We want to reduce this form back to the four pages that it was at one point in time," said Berglin.
She also wants to restore MinnesotaCare benefits for adults without children. Those benefits were cut by lawmakers a few years ago to balance the state budget. Berglin thinks these changes will add as many as 40,000 additional people to MinnesotaCare.
But her ultimate goal is to cover everyone. She wants Minnesotans to vote on a constitutional amendment guaranteeing universal coverage for all Minnesotans by 2010. She says a constitutional amendment would force lawmakers to follow through on their promises.
"I worked with senators on a bipartisan basis back in the 1990s where we were promising universal coverage, and we never got there. So it's important for us to have this accountability piece," Berglin said.
Berglin's bill also offers savings for people who already have insurance. Berglin proposes capping insurance premium increases. She says consumers could save hundreds of dollars a year if health providers were forced to rein in their spending.
"We have probably about 10 times the number of imaging machines in Minnesota as they have in the whole country of Canada, and we pay for all of them. And it's not necessary in order for people to have good health to have that many things that we're paying for," Berglin said. "We need to impose some discipline on the system, we need to do it badly, and this mechanism will impose that discipline."
Gov. Pawlenty does not support capping insurance premiums. His spokesman Brian McClung says the governor thinks artificial price controls aren't the answer. Instead, he says the governor would rather focus on reforming the system in other ways by offering incentives for quality care.
McClung says while the governor shares the DFL's overall goal of insuring more people, his approach to the problem is different.
"The governor thinks that we ought to find ways to get there through the private marketplace, and that having universal health coverage does not mean having a government take over of the health system," McClung said.
But DFL leaders have found some allies among their Republican colleagues. Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, says he supports Berglin's bill because it helps people in his district, including farmers and small employers.
"If you look at the last election, I think it's pretty clear that the message that was sent to the elected officials is that people want us to work together to get something done," said Koering.
Berglin's bill is one of several universal health care proposals alredy introduced in the House and Senate this session. Another proposal would extend health insurance coverage to all children in the state.
Berglin's bill does not have a pricetag yet. Last year she proposed a similar bill that cost around $120 million. She predicts this bill will be somewhat more expensive. But she says she's confident she can find money to pay for it without raising taxes.
Currently there's a $188 million dollar surplus in the Health Care Access Fund. The state budget also has a surplus of $2.2 billion.
Gov. Pawlenty is expected to unveil his health care proposal Thursday afternoon.
- All Things Considered, 01/10/2007, 5:50 p.m.