Minnesota delegation reacts to Obama's speech
St. Paul, Minn. — Reaction to President Barack Obama's Wednesday night health care reform speech fell along party lines from members of Minnesota's congressional delegation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she liked much of what she heard in the president's speech on health care reform. The Democrat said it addressed the concerns of people who already have insurance, but Obama also urged changes to the system.
"I think the president was really clear on the public option and really echoed my feelings on it. There is a place for some kind of option that allows people to buy into something to make health care less expensive," Klobuchar said. "You want to have some competitive forces. You want to bring down costs. The only caveat I'm giving about it is if we're going to go this way, we want to make sure we make some changes to the way we do the cost structure in Medicare, so we reward those states that have higher quality and lower cost care."
Minnesota, Wisconsin and other states are considered models of cost-effective care. Members of Congress from Minnesota have been united in pushing to change Medicare payment formulas they consider unfair.
Klobuchar said Obama's speech last night helped allay fears that reform would come at the expense of health care for seniors and the disabled.
"He spent a significant amount of time on the cost issue, talking about the fact that we want people who are 55 to get Medicare, and we want people who are 65 now to be able to live until they're 95 and get Medicare," she said. "And so he laid that out in a way that said to the seniors, 'We're going to keep your Medicare. In fact, we're going to improve it by plugging up some of the doughnut hole that makes you pay for prescription drugs.'"
But, she said, the government needs to do something that makes Medicare more efficient.
Sen. Al Franken also said he agrees with Obama that a health care overhaul is long overdue. Republicans have been critical of Obama's health proposals and his speech to Congress last night. But Franken, a Democrat, said he believes the speech struck a chord with key lawmakers.
"I hope that it set a tone, which was now is really the time to get down to business," Franken said. "There are a few Republicans in the Senate who are very -- they're in play, shall we say -- and I think that it spoke to them well."
Franken supports a public option for health insurance, saying it would provide needed competition to private insurance companies.
After hearing last night's speech, Franken said he believes Obama will fight for the public option proposal. But, Franken hinted, it may be sacrificed in a compromise bill.
Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen said he thinks Obama's push to require Americans to have health insurance is a bad idea.
Paulsen said there are better ideas for health care reform that were missing from the president's speech. Paulsen said he hopes they'll make it into health policy eventually.
"I'm very wary of the individual mandate or the employer mandate," he said. "I'd like to look at some of the more bipartisan efforts -- to include children up to 26 to be in their parents' programs, to allow small businesses to pool together to offer insurance. I think we can increase coverage and access for people if we focus more on the cost equation as opposed to the mandate."
While Paulsen said he thinks Obama's speech on health reform was aimed mostly at shoring up Democratic support, he said Republicans found some things to like, as well.
"The president outlined some specifics ... last night, that I do support," he said. "Covering pre-existing conditions, making sure insurance companies don't drop people that have coverage because of a condition if they lose their job. I think we should have portability in insurance, absolutely."
Paulsen, who is in his first term, joined Democrats who are critical of Medicare payment inequities that hurt Minnesota providers.
Paulsen will host a town meeting on health care reform at the Maple Grove High School on Friday evening.
DFL Rep. Tim Walz of the 1st Congressional District will hold a town hall meeting on health care reform on Saturday, at the John Marshall High School Auditorium in Rochester.
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of the 6th District will hold a health care forum on Saturday morning, from at St. Cloud Tech High School.
(MPR reporters Tim Nelson and Phil Picardi contributed to this report.)