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Congress would do well to emulate Minnesota Advantage — which is not a ‘public option’ program

In response to “A bit of irony in Pawlenty’s op-ed piece on health reform?” (MinnPost, Aug. 3), both current and former AFSCME staffers made several factual errors in characterizing the health-care reforms cited by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in his recent Washington Post commentary.

In the article, former AFSCME Executive Director Peter Benner claimed “it’s a model of what a public option can do — not what a private-sector model can do.”

Let’s be clear — Minnesota Advantage, the state employee insurance program, is not a “public option.”

Benner says, “They [state employees] couldn’t buy it in the private sector.” State employees don’t “buy” coverage. Their employer does. In this case the state of Minnesota negotiated with providers and carriers to put in place incentives that reward good decision-making by our employees. The result is lower health-care costs for the entire group. Minnesota’s program is a model of how an employer — any employer — can provide cost-effective choices using private sector providers, allowing people to keep their current doctors.

Second, the notion that 120,000 employees and dependents is not a big group is ludicrous. The state helped create the Minnesota Smart Buy Alliance, which uses set uniform performance standards, cost/quality reporting requirements, and technology demands on health plans and providers to favor those that are certified for highest quality.

The public and private sector members of the Smart Buy Alliance represent about 60 percent of state residents.  You don’t need all 5 million Minnesotans in a plan to “bend the curve.” You do need other large employers copying the market-driven, patient-centered and quality-focused reform the state designed. This is exactly what the Minnesota Smart Buy Alliance does.

Benner also comments that if we thought this was a good idea we would have proposed adding more people to it. It wouldn’t make sense to add people on state government-subsidized health-care programs to the state employee pool because we wouldn’t have the same flexibility we have with state employees. With our employees we can offer personal wellness programs and measure and manage use of the program and results, since the state is self-insured.

The comment that Washington Democrats are proposing the “same thing” that Gov. Pawlenty has accomplished in Minnesota is simply not true. Democrats in Washington are proposing dramatically expanded coverage, but reducing choices, while ignoring important reforms to improve quality and limit increasing costs. Minnesota measures exacting data on clinical outcomes that allow us to hold down costs and provide employees with choices that ultimately pass along the saving to them.

In addition, the health-care reform law signed by Gov. Pawlenty in 2008 puts Minnesota on a path toward meaningful payment reform across the board, creating a market where quality and cost are transparent and high quality, high value is rewarded.  Nowhere in the Democratic plan do you see a “Minnesota Community Measurement” team that reports on results or the type of cost and quality transparency our 2008 reforms will bring.

Members of Congress would be well-served to start over and emulate the approach taken on a bipartisan basis in Minnesota. Hopefully that’s the message they’ll be hearing throughout their August recess.

Brian McClung is the director of communications in the Office of Governor Tim Pawlenty.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Jennifer Albright on 08/06/2009 - 09:23 am.

    What about the people who are self employed or whose employers can’t afford coverage? It’s great when large employers (like the GOVERNMENT) can negotiate lower prices. That is what the public option would do. However, unlike the MN Advantage option, in a public option people who have pre-exisiting medical conditions or don’t receive insurance through their employer could actually get affordable health care.

  2. Submitted by David Mindeman on 08/06/2009 - 09:47 am.

    This is not an example of a public option? The State of Minnesota is the plan payer. The state of Minnesota contracts with the insurers for administration of the plan not implementation. The plan is collectively bargained between the state and state employees. What is not “public option” here?

    But I would agree that this could be a model for employer related plans…except:

    It doesn’t address the real expenses of health care…the unemployed, the too sick to work, and the fully disabled.

    Pooling together a group of people who are gainfully employed and generally healthy is an insurance actuarial dream. Of course premiums can be manageable in that instance, the risks are low.

    This could never be a real model for the nation because it continues to follow the insurance company requirement — insure the healthy, eliminate the sick, and make the profits.

    Public option model..possibly. National model…hardly!

  3. Submitted by Jennifer Munt on 08/06/2009 - 04:13 pm.

    If Gov. Pawlenty is truly concerned about curbing costs, why did he kick 35,000 Minnesotans off health care?

    All of us who pay insurance premiums will pay for his mistake. The average annual cost of a family premium is about $12,000 – and $922 of that goes toward paying for the uninsured.

    To drive costs down, we need a public option that competes with for-profit insurers and provides everyone with access to affordable, quality care.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/06/2009 - 08:43 pm.

    The only real effort Pawlenty has made to control state costs is to throw people out of health care. First he threw 35,000 people out of the system, and now he’s gonna throw another 100,000 out of the system. Sure it’s cheaper to insure fewer people, duh. That’s not health care reform, it’s murder, he’s killing people. Pawlenty’s health care plan is to provide health care to fewer people. Yeah, it’s cheaper to let people suffer and die than it is to treat them, is that what this debate is really about Mr. McClung? Any governor that really cared about health care would find a way to continue to provide health care instead of cutting it off. If they start listing to Pawlenty in Washington we’re all in serious trouble.

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