When Your Health is at Stake, "Eventually" Isn't Good Enough
by Senator John Marty
December 22, 2006
For years, politicians have been talking about affordable healthcare, while more families than ever are underinsured, or cannot find any coverage at all. It is not acceptable to say we will provide healthcare for these families, eventually.

When your health is at stake, "eventually" isn't good enough. Now is the time to deliver quality, affordable health care for all Minnesotans. We need to set a deadline - the end of this decade - without allowing further excuses or delays.

Let's work together in a cooperative, bipartisan manner to meet this challenge.

Political commitments have already been made. Last month, Governor Pawlenty said that we "can chart a path towards universal coverage. We should have as a goal, as a nation, as states, as communities, that everybody has insurance or coverage or is part of a healthcare plan." Likewise, many legislators campaigned for office promising to work for affordable healthcare for all.

Although there may be significant disagreements about specific policies, that does not excuse us from working aggressively for reform. The first step, before we work out the details of how healthcare will be made accessible to all, should be to spell out the goals that we want to accomplish.

To develop a healthcare system that serves Minnesotans best, the system must:
  1. ensure that all Minnesotans receive high quality health care, regardless of their income;
  2. allow patients the ability to choose their own providers;
  3. hold down costs, not by restricting or denying coverage or reducing the quality of care, but through prevention, efficiency, and elimination of bureaucracy;
  4. provide comprehensive benefits, including complete mental health services, chemical dependency treatment, prescription drugs, medical equipment and supplies, dental care, long-term care, and home care services;
  5. be funded through premiums and other payments based on the person's ability to pay, so as not to deny access;
  6. focus on preventive care and early intervention;
  7. provide an adequate number of qualified health care professionals and facilities to guarantee timely access to quality care throughout the state; and
  8. continue promoting Minnesota's leadership in medical education, training, research, and technology.
The requirement for comprehensive benefits is crucial. When the Governor and Legislature talk about "covering all kids," we must recognize that this means all children, not just those with physical health problems, but also those children with dental problems and those with mental health needs. Healthcare that excludes coverage of the medical needs of some people is not truly coverage for those people.

During the course of the recent campaign, many legislators heard stories of families who face tremendous hardship due to inadequate coverage. As the Governor and Legislature work together this session, we cannot forget the troubles these families face and the urgency of addressing this issue.

We will have a busy session in the Senate Health & Housing Committee, but I propose that we set a binding timeline for delivering reform that meets the eight factors spelled out above. This is what the people of Minnesota are asking for. They expect it and deserve it.

When the European nations, Canada, and Japan are able to deliver comprehensive health care to all of their people, with better health outcomes - for roughly half the cost per person that we are already spending - this is not an insurmountable challenge.

I am introducing legislation that would set up a process to develop health care reform that meets all these factors by the end of the decade. It would establish a constitutional right to health care beginning in January 2010. Prison inmates already have a constitutional right to health care. Don't all of us deserve as much?

We can, and must, stand up to those powerful interests that stand in the way. Let's start by passing the "cover all kids" legislation this year, and then ensure that every Minnesotan has full access to healthcare by the end of this decade.

Note: Senator Marty is the incoming chair of the Minnesota Senate Health, Housing, and Family Security Committee.

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