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Ventura appoints tri-partisan task force on health care.
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
December 3, 2001

Gov. Jesse Ventura has announced the formation of a tri-partisan task force to study rising health care costs and the quality of care. Ventura says the state's double-digit health insurance increases and a floundering economy could lead to higher uninsurance rates. However, he says the task force will not make recommendations until after next year's gubernatorial election.

Rep. Fran Bradley, right, chairman of the Health and Human Services Policy Committee, said he plans to refer reforms proposed in the upcoming session to the newly created health care task force for consideration.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

Ventura says Minnesota's health care system is known throughout the country for its leadership in health care reform but he says the current system can't continue. He says health care costs are rising because of expensive prescription drugs and medical technology. He also says the health care system is being overused by many consumers who don't know the true cost of health care.

While Ventura says it's important for the state to tackle the issue of health care cost and quality, he doesn't see the task force providing any solutions on the problem before the next legislative session or even before next year's gubernatorial election. He says the problem is too difficult to solve in a couple of months.

"There's no quick fix. And that's not what Minnesotans should be looking for that could tide us over for six months or a year or two," Ventura said. "We need a fix that's long term. As much as I would enjoy believing that we could get it done this session, being a realist, I'm not sure if that's a case of reality or not."

Ventura says he won't recommend anything to the task force that could help solve the problem. He only said he supports market competition and thinks increased competition could lower health care costs.

The governor has appointed five of his commissioners to the panel. It also includes DFL and Republican lawmakers who sit on various health care committees in the Legislature. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says it's likely a community advisory group of policy leaders, health care providers, business owners and consumers will provide information to the task force.

She says the group has to figure out ways to lower rising health care premiums, engage consumers in their health care decisions and make health insurance cheaper for small businesses.

"Our hope is that we can do some real concentrated work here in the coming months to really test out where there is consensus and where we can start moving faster," Malcolm said. "And where there's no concensus, let's not waste our time on issue that we're actually going to be able to take action on."

State Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester and chair of the Health and Human Services Policy Committee, will also sit on the task force. He's held hearings over the past four months on the rising cost of health insurance. He says the panel's top priority should be to figure out ways to control those costs.

"I don't think we're going to kid anybody. We're probably not going to have a case where we'll do a few things and all of a sudden, health care costs will be cut. But at least what I think what we can do is put the breaks on the rate of increase," Bradley said.

However, others worry that implementing greater cost contol measures could remove the consumer's freedom to make health care decisions. Over the past decade, consumer groups have successfully criticized health maintanence organizations for restricting doctor visits and access to specialists.

Many HMOs are now offering their enrollees greater freedom when choosing a doctor. The Minnesota Nurses Association's executive director, Erin Murphy, says the task force needs to address rising costs but must make sure quality isn't compromised.

"They have to think what's best for the citizens, for the people that are receiving care and the people who will be receiving care down the line. That has got to be the driver, not cost by itself. It's got to be cost paired with really excellent care," Murphy said.

The task force has not scheduled any meeting dates.

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