Legislature Doing The Usual We're Not "Mad As Hell"-Why Not?

Two weeks to go in the current legislative session and do you know where your bills are tonight? Probably nowhere, in view of the continuing discussion over taxes, taxes and taxes. The biggest hit of the last few sessions was the expansion of “charitable” gambling with all its opportunities for petty chiseling, and now the famous lottery in which our state government tries to entice more dull-witted people into squandering their money on games so biased Las Vegas would think them unconscionable. Minnesota is probably no worse than other states in this regard, but it seems more and more unreasonable that the public should shrug off this ridiculous behavior.

We have major problems nationally and in our state which are totally ignored or worse yet, recognized and then ignored. All this in the name of tax savings, for heaven’s sake. Our health and education systems are falling apart while jobs are being “out-sourced” to other countries. Affordable housing is a myth to about one-third of the population, and the banking system is in such bad shape it can hardly function, let alone innovate in solving the problem.

Our solution as voters is to re-elect the people who brought us this mess. What this seems to say is that we don’t really care about solving problems, and for some reason think “our” representative or senator is really OK. Well, the chances are that your representative or senator is part of the problem. Last month I heard my own representative in the state legislature say to a group of constituents that “nothing much was happening”. Turned out her main concern was lobbying for downtown Minneapolis bars to be able to stay open until 2:30 A.M. which would please bar-owners and the downtown cheerleaders promoting the 1992 Superbowl. Now, there’s a great idea, which no doubt is much more important than affordable health care. Or don’t you see it her way?

The reason I am more upset this year than normal is that I see an opportunity slipping away while our boys and girls at the Capitol are dozing their way through endless hearings and discussions, letting the “budget shortfall” provide an alibi for inaction or even giving real consideration to the big important issues. This year the biggest and most important opportunity for change comes from the Health Care Access Commission. This is the most comprehensive study ever made for the benefit of these legislators and the governor, suggesting short and long term solutions to the problem of providing affordable health care for everyone in the state. The commission’s conclusion was that universal health care in the long run costs less, and everyone would have the assurance of adequate health care without depending on either charity or the ability of an employer to provide coverage.

The majority of Minnesotans feel that health care should be universal. A large number of legislators, in fact a majority in both house and senate, favor a commitment to universal health care with full funding of the program to phase in over the next four years. The plan would be fully funded and in full operation in 1996. At that time the result would be an actual saving per capita, partly realized by a reduction in the money now spent on insurance company profits.

Almost one fourth of everyone’s medical costs now go to “middlemen”, insurance companies principally, but also bookkeepers in hospitals and doctor’s offices. These administrative costs, handling premiums and paying the bills, are unreasonably expensive at present due to the complexity of the present system. Insurance companies have different forms and requirements, doctors have different policies, and confusion is the norm in many offices. Many doctors now have policies that require patients to pay their deductible (and sometimes the whole fee) “up front”, which obviously works against those with the least cash.

Insurance companies are the big lobby against this legislation, and Governor Carlson seems to have knuckled under to their demands. In his campaign he was a proponent of “affordable health care for all Minnesotans”. Latest word is that he supports the insurance company plan. This is a countermeasure designed to cloud the issue (just as the National Rifle Association proposed a worthless substitute bill to counteract the Brady bill on gun buying). Blue Cross suggests that raising deductibles can lower premiums (another idea is to remove part of the normal coverages). Governor Carlson would also like to try this sort of thing in a small area, further delaying adequate coverage to the majority of those in need.

Roger Moe, our senate majority leader, was an original sponsor of the Universal Health Care bill, as were 45 out of 67 senators. He also has started kowtowing to the insurance people, and has not been pushing it lately, using the tired old alibi of “shortfall.”

This is a clearcut policy issue. The majority of the people in Minnesota want health care to be universal. Money is not the problem. If we make the commitment, the money will be found. If it takes taxes, it’s worth it. If it comes out of programs which are less important, so be it.

Let’s tell the leaders in this battle that we want action in this session on Universal Health Care. No misleading “trial runs” by insurance companies, but a commitment to start the process of providing health care to all Minnesotans. Check page 9 for the access routes to Gov. Carlson, Senator Moe, and Rep. Vanasek. And do tell your personal representatives as well.

Think about the progress made to date, and who is really against better health for the 350,000 uninsured Minnesotans and at least as many underinsured folks. Maybe you should get a little angry. Make the call!

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