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Minnesota delegation's positions on health care plans

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At this early stage in the health care reform game, with at least three major plans floating around Congress, Minnesota's delegation is mostly operating in wait-and-see mode. But that doesn't mean they aren't forming opinions. Here's a look at where Minnesota's lawmakers stand on health care reform now.

Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, has introduced Medicare reform legislation that would reward outcomes over number of tests.

"So, to my colleagues that are conjuring up reasons not to pass reform this [year], using scare tactics about nationalized health care and engaging in fear-mongering, I would say we can't stay where we are," Klobuchar said on the Senate floor earlier this month.

Klobuchar's spokesman, Linden Zakula, also said that the senator was considering the possibility of health exchanges. Klobuchar, however, could not be reached for comment on important particulars of the health care debate, including the specifics of those health exchanges, public option plans, the single-payer system and financing suggestions.


Walz: 1st District
Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has also introduced Medicare reform legislation along with Rep. Keith Ellison. Walz said that a public plan is worth looking at but that "if the public plan simply looks like Medicare that is not workable."

Walz, who is against taxing health care benefits as a funding strategy, also said he thinks there is a role for the private marketplace to play in health care reform and does not advocate a single-payer system at the moment.

Kline: 2nd District
GOP Rep. John Kline is now ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee — one of three House panels that are currently marking up the health care reform legislation.

Rep. John Kline
Rep. John Kline

Kline has called the public option a "recipe for disaster." Kline, along with most Republicans, said he believes that the public option would drive private insurers out of business leaving a single-payer system that would lead to rationed care and reduced incentives for medical research.

"The Democrat's plan is it increases the role of the federal government through a new government-run plan and an expansion of Medicaid," Kline said at a hearing last week on the House health care plan. "With government spending on health care already exploding and the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs already on the road to insolvency, I can't imagine the reasoning behind intensifying the stress placed on these programs."

Paulsen: Third District
Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican, along with Kline and Rep. Michele Bachmann, has expressed support for the House GOP Health Care Solutions Group plan.

Among other things, the plan (PDF) would provide tax deductions for people who purchase health insurance on their own, tax credits for low- and modest-income Americans and subsidies to help some pre and early retirees. It would also allow small businesses to band together to offer health insurance at lower costs and would ensure that all Americans, regardless of pre-existing conditions or past illnesses, have access to coverage.

The main difference, of course, between the Republican plan and the plan currently being discussed by the House committees is the inclusion of a government-run plan, or as Paulsen called it, a "government takeover."

"A government takeover of health care will stifle medical breakthroughs and take away the peace of mind that families around America have, knowing that they can get the timely treatment for their children, their parents and themselves," Paulsen said recently in comments from the House floor.

Although it is not likely that the Republican plan will be adopted given the vast Democratic majority in the House, Paulsen remained hopeful that some elements of the Republican plan would be incorporated.

McCollum: 4th District
Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, said that she would be open to a public plan. McCollum, however, emphasized that she did not think a single-payer system would be useful in the short term.

"My bottom line is making sure people have coverage that is affordable," McCollum said. "At this moment in time, I don't see how single-payer speeds that process up … because you have to set up an entirely new bureaucracy and change everyone over. Once we get people covered, once we are managing their chronic diseases, once we are really doing what we need to do in the line of prevention, holding costs down, having best practices being practiced by all practitioners across the 50 states and the territories, then let's talk about what is a more efficient delivery system."

On financing the reform, McCollum said that she believed addressing inefficiencies in the current system would go a long way to offsetting the costs.

"I am open to a sincere and honest discussion" on funding ideas, McCollum said.

But, as far as taxing employer health care benefits, McCollum offered this statement:

"Do I think we need to tax health care benefits? In my opinion, absolutely not … Nobody has convinced me that that's what we need to do. That is not on my radar screen."

McCollum will hold a town hall meeting on health care Wednesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Highland Park Picnic Pavilion, 1270 Montreal Ave., in St. Paul.

Rep. Keith Ellison
Rep. Keith Ellison

Ellison: 5th District

Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat, is the most vocal proponent in Minnesota's delegation of a single-payer system and a robust public plan.

So far, Ellison is the only member of the delegation to have signed onto a single-payer initiative in the House, which now has 83 cosponsors.

"Single-payer is the cheapest way to do health care," Ellison said. "It is the cheapest most effective way to keep people healthy."

Ellison has also said that he would support a strong public plan that was fashioned on Medicare, if the funding model were reformed to reward results.

Ellison also will be holding a town hall meeting on "Solving the Health Care Crisis" Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at UCare, 500 Stinson Blvd. NE. in Minneapolis.

The forum will include Ellison, health care experts and community leaders.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
Rep. Michele Bachmann

Bachmann: 6th District
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, like the majority of her Republican colleagues, does not support a public plan.

"They're trying to sell the illusion that the public plan will simply compete with private insurers," said Bachmann in a statement earlier this month. "But when they say public-option, they are sowing the seeds for what will ultimately become a fully government-run program."

Bachmann has introduced her own health care bill, which would provide tax deductibility for individuals' medical expenses.

Peterson: 7th District
Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee and has recently been focusing on the landmark climate-change legislation, said he had not had time to look at the health care measures yet.

"I don't know anything about [the] health care [measures] and I haven't thought about it," Peterson said on Friday.

Oberstar: 8th District
Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat, said that he has been a longtime supporter of a single-payer system, but that the public option proposed in the House seemed like a good alternative.

Oberstar added that Republican claims that a public plan would hurt medical research and medical technology development were overblown because the government already funds a majority of "high-risk" medication research.

Rep. Jim Oberstar
Rep. Jim Oberstar

"The National Institutes of Health is really the driving force behind high-risk medication research," Oberstar said. Many "drug companies do very little basic research… they do not undertake high risk primary research."

Oberstar acknowledged, however, that the Senate was likely to reduce any public plan option.

"All it takes is one senator to stop this, so you have to negotiate and come down to the lowest common denominator and so that is where they are," Oberstar said.

Oberstar also said that he would not be in favor of taxing employer health benefits as a way to fund reform.

"This would be a really unfair blow to working families and to labor union members," Oberstar said.

Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota's congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.

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Comments (2)

Minnesota's DFL party has long had a plank supporting single payer coverage. What is astonishing is that only Ellison and Oberstar seem to be aware of it. With Democrats like Klobuchar, Walz, Peterson,and McCollum--and Franken too, its no wonder we can't get real reform. Nor is it just an issue of Democrats being afraid of "independent" voters since recent polls put 72% of us in favor of some form of Medicare for all. The Republicans? Well, just irrelevant once again.

Tom Olson

The president, too, talks about the Sudden Shock switching to a single-payer system would cause. He, Betty McCollum and many many others seem not to be aware that the system designed by John Conyers (HR-676) would phase in over ten years.

Most job losses in the insurance industry would be through attrition. BUT, we would begin saving billions of dollars in Year One, unlike all the insurance and drug industry-friendly plans now under consideration.