Some Minnesota companies displeased with Senate health care billby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A new proposal to reform health care is meeting with opposition among large Minnesota employers, medical device manufacturers and insurers. They're objecting to measures that are ether in, or missing from the bill.
The latest health care reform plan comes from U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The price tag on the plan is $856 billion. Among other things, it would require everyone to buy insurance and would prohibit insurers from jacking up the cost for people with serious health problems.
But the Minnesota Business Partnership, which represents 110 of the state's largest companies, says it can't support the proposal.
Charlie Weaver, the partnership's executive director, said it's a fine idea to expand coverage, but the fundamental problem is the health care system is broken.
"Just putting more people on a system that doesn't work doesn't do anybody good," Weaver said. "It just accelerates the bankruptcy of the whole deal eventually."
Weaver said the bill also omits much needed reforms in law governing malpractice lawsuits.
"The costs that doctors and the whole medical community pay to prepare for being sued for malpractice is really bad business and doesn't make any sense," he said. "It drains the system of important money that could be used to help patients."
A provision in the Baucus bill would heavily tax medical device manufacturers as well, and that's not going over well with companies like Medtronic, St. Jude Medical and Boston Scientific -- all big Minnesota employers. Medical device manufacturers would get hit with an estimated $40 billion tax over ten years.
"Our view is there are better ways to pay for health care reform than what we view as a misguided and unfair tax," Paul Donovan, a spokesman for Boston Scientific said.
Boston Scientific employs some 6,000 people in Minnesota, including contract workers.
"It would really be a body blow to our industry and our ability to innovate, our ability to keep costs down and our ability to keep jobs here in the United States," Donovan said. "So, it is a very serious threat and we're taking it very seriously."
Members of Minnesota's congressional delegation U.S. senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken have written Baucus to ask him to reconsider the tax. Like the industry, they say the tax would threaten thousands of jobs in Minnesota and other states and slow innovation in the industry.
Health insurers found the latest proposal disappointing in major ways, too.
HealthPartners wanted to see measures that would reduce inequities in what Medicare pays providers in different states and movement toward better connecting Medicare payments with the quality of care delivered to patients.
"It does not address the core issue: How do you pay for Medicare differently to reward the kind of care that we provide here in Minnesota?" Donna Zimmerman, vice president of government and community relations for HealthPartners said.
HealthPartners provides health insurance to some 1.3 million people, mostly in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Zimmerman said Medicare reimbursement rates should be higher in states like Minnesota.
"It does nothing to really address the fact that Minnesota is number one in quality for Medicare and number 40 in payment, while a state like Louisiana is number 50 quality and number one in Medicare payment," Zimmerman said. "We would love to have seen a very robust proposal that would focus on really creating a value index for Medicare payment."
But even critics see some signs of hope in the Baucus proposal.
Charlie Weaver of the Business Partnership sees evidence of willingness by Democrats and Republicans to compromise and craft a bill that could win broad support.
"On the Senate side, you're seeing some movement and some attempts toward a bipartisan bill," he said. "That is the most important thing. At the end of the day, something that is so important, so critical to this economy. We're talking about a system that is one-sixth of the U.S. economy. It's important we get it right."
And Paul Donovan of Boston Scientific is optimistic about killing that proposed tax on his industry.
"I think everyone was encouraged today when Sen. Baucus described this legislation as a good start or a good beginning," Donovan said. "So, he seems open to change and we hope one of the changes he's open to will be the elimination of this tax and fairer way to fund this legislation."
To be sure, any viable health care reform plan will be subject to a lot of compromising and bargaining.
- All Things Considered, 09/16/2009, 5:47 p.m.