In the Spotlight

News & Features
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Cost of health care looms as top issue in 2004 Legislature
Larger view
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, proposes several strategies for reining in costs. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Senate DFLers are the latest group at the state Capitol to propose a plan to reduce health care costs. The proposal would restore some of the cuts to state subsidized health insurance programs, would cap health care premium increases and would invest more money in education for health care professionals. The rising cost of health care is likely to be a hot issue in the upcoming legislative session. House Republicans have proposed a dramatically different plan and a task force appointed by the governor is also working on the issue.

St. Paul, Minn. — State lawmakers are likely to address the rising cost of health care in the upcoming session after watching annual health insurance premiums increase at double-digit rates. The increases have caused some people to lose their health insurance and have forced employers to limit their health care packages. Those who continue to have health insurance have also been forced to pay more for their care.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, proposes several strategies for reining in costs. She wants to encourage health care providers not to pursue treatments that aren't well-supported by scientific evidence of success. She wants to allow small businesses to enroll in MinnesotaCare, the state subsidized health insurance program. Berglin would also like to forbid HMOs from increasing their annual premiums more than 6 percent a year.

Larger view
Image Durenberger's worried about effect of political power

"This is to make sure that the things that we build into the system to reduce costs actually will be seen by the consumer rather than finding their way into other parts of the medical system," she said.

Berglin is also proposing that doctor's offices and hospitals move from using paper medical records to an electronic system. She also wants to restore some of the cuts made to state programs. Berglin says her plan will save the state money down the road, but would need $60 million from the state's health care access fund to get started.

The proposal comes on the heels of a plan announced by House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chair Fran Bradley. He says Berglin's plan allows state government to decide which health care options are best for Minnesotans. The Rochester Republican says he thinks the private marketplace is the best way to reduce costs.

Bradley's proposal would cut government regulation, allow for-profit HMOs to enter the Minnesota marketplace and would limit medical malpractice lawsuits. He says he thinks health care will be the number one issue at the Legislature in the upcoming session.

"If it isn't it should be," he said. "I don't think there's another issue that's on the minds of every person in Minnesota that I talk to, more than their health care costs. I find it every place that I go. You can knock on any businesses door. I don't know know if there's another issue in these days that is so poignant and broad based as that one."

While state lawmakers are disagreeing over the best way to lower the cost of health care in the state, Gov. Pawlenty's health care task force continues to work on its proposal. The group has held several town hall meetings to get citizen input.

Task force chair Dave Durenberger says the public is concerned that hospitals, HMOs and drug companies have too much political power. He also says consumers are frustrated that they don't know how much a procedure really costs.

"When you use the word transparency, it probably describes more than anything else what people want but aren't getting from the current system. They want to be able to see through the kinds of things they're asked to sign when they go to the doctor's office or they're asked to decide on when it comes time to decide on their annual choice of health plan," Durenberger said.

Durenberger says he expects the task force to submit its final report to Gov. Pawlenty by the end of January.

A survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures says lawmakers in 43 of the 49 states involved in the survey have proposals to lower the cost of health care. The NCSL's Carla Plaza says all state lawmakers are hearing about rising health care costs from their constituents. She says state lawmakers feel obligated to do something because Congress has done little to address the issue.

"I know that stuff that the state's are tackling, the issues that the states are tackling could make a dent for the time being and that's why they're pushing for this because they're costs are completely out of control," according to Plaza.

Plaza says she expects to see lawmakers use a range of proposals to lower health care costs. She says proposals that would require HMOs to rely on evidence-based medicine and loosening government regulation are two of the more popular ideas.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects