"A Healthcare Conversation: Minnesota Style,"was the title of the town forum that many Stillwater residents went to instead of watching the Vikings on October 9. The event was sponsored by St. Croix Valley Women’s Alliance and moderated by the League of Women Voters White Bear Lake. It hosted a four-member panel.
The panel included Canvas Health CEO Matthew Eastwood, health policy consultant Kathleen Picard, and Minnesota Senators John Marty (DFL) and Jim Abeler (R). Andy Slavitt, the former Acting Administrator for CMS from 2015 to 2017, was also on the list but unfortunately, he missed his flight.
Minnesota State Senator Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) began the discussion. He strayed from declaring any bold healthcare solutions right away. He instead reminded the audience that health insurance coverage does not always equate to good healthcare. “Healthcare is not about having a card,” he said. “It’s a personal responsibility.”
Abeler was then followed by Matthew Eastwood, focusing on mental health issues, thenfellow Minnesota State Senator John Marty (D-Roseville), who concentrated on his proposed single-payer bill, the Minnesota Health Plan. Last to speak was physical therapy specialist Kathleen Picard.
The question-and-answerperiodof the discussion came next, asked by members of the audience and read by the moderator, Miriam Simmons. The first question was: is healthcare a right, or a privilege?
The two non-political members of the panel steered away from the word “right,” and instead labeled it a “necessity” or “asset.” Marty answered that he didn't care what you called healthcare as long as everyone had access to it. Abeler said that the perception of healthcare itself has “evolved” over time into a right but gave no opinion of his own.
After that, the discussion struck a similar chord among all members of the panel, the common belief that the United States has the best health research and doctors in the world.Our current healthcare system, however, restricts access to utilize it properly. Although the panelists disagreed on how to solve the issue of access, they were nonetheless in agreement that something had to be done to fix it.
For Abeler, Eastwood and Picard, one of the leading issues was the over-regulation of the system. The Senators stated that over-regulation not only makes the profession of practitioner difficult, but it also makes the care more costly for the patient. Eastwood and Picard were also keen on addressing the wasted money the system spends on patients that don’t need medical attention and the complex system navigation required to get to the practitioner that can help you.
Senator Marty had a similar solution for every question. His solution was to institute a plan that covered everyone for everything healthcare related. His proposed plan would be regulated by a fifteen-member Minnesota Health Board that would be completely autonomous from both the state legislature and the executive branch. The boardwould also have exclusive rights to determine when certain individuals should have expanded coverage, to declare when medical assistance wouldn't be worthwhile, and what premiums will cost Minnesotans on an individual basis. These premiums would go not to an insurance company or the government, but to the Minnesota Health Fund. As well, the fund could never be re-appropriated for anything else.
How would we pay for this plan? The same way it is now, the bill claims – “government, business, and individuals.” But when asked if taxes would rise for Minnesotans, while premiums would supposedly go down, Senator Marty failed to answer and instead re-hashed how premiums would decline. Since the government (a.k.a. taxpayers) would be the main contributor to funding his onerously expensive plan,this crucial question went unanswered.
The discussion as a whole was well-received by the audience. There was only one member of the audience that yelled out an obscene remark in response to a statement made by Senator Jim Abeler.
The message from all panelists was clear, however; the system needs to change.