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A bit of irony in Pawlenty’s op-ed piece on health reform?

AFSCME Council 5, the largest union representing state-government employees, is finding some irony in Gov.

AFSCME Council 5, the largest union representing state-government employees, is finding some irony in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s opinion piece on health-care reform in Sunday’s Washington Post.

“In Minnesota,” the governor writes, “our state employee health-care plan has demonstrated incredible results by linking outcomes to value. State employees in Minnesota can choose any clinic available to them in the health-care network they’ve selected. However, individuals who use more costly and less-efficient clinics are required to pay more out-of-pocket.”

Pawlenty, a Republican who many anticipate will run for president in 2012, notes the cost savings and flat premiums. “The payoff is straightforward: For two of the past five years, we’ve had zero percent premium increases in the state employee insurance plan.”

The liberal-leaning union says it agrees with Pawlenty that the State Employee Group Insurance Plan, which is run by the Minnesota Management and Budget agency, should be a model for national reform.

Still, a longtime health-benefits negotiator for AFSCME and a union spokeswoman note that Minnesota’s plan is essentially something that many Republicans oppose in national reform legislation — a public option run by government.

“This is a case where the largest public employer in the state and all the unions came together and designed something that works for workers and families because they couldn’t buy it in the private sector,” said Peter Benner, a former executive director of AFSCME who negotiated health benefits under governors dating to Rudy Perpich. “I’m glad he (the governor) holds the state employee health plan up as a model, but I think it’s a model of what a public option can do — not what a private-sector model can do.”

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The plan, like a number of those offered by large employers, is self-insured, which means the state is “responsible for paying its own claims and administrative expenses,” according to a 2005-2006 report [pdf] on the program. The program contracts with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners and PreferredOne, which are “responsible for paying claims so the state does not have access to the protected health information of its employees or their dependents. The carriers also provide medical networks, pharmacy benefits, and disease management services.”

About 120,000 state workers and their dependents are covered under the plan, “not a big enough group to bend the curve these days” in long-term “cost-effective, affordable care,” said Benner, now a consultant who would like to see other public employees like teachers and local government workers added to the plan. “If they really look at the SEGIP group as a model, I would think they’d want to find as many ways possible to get as many people in the product so that we bend the curve.”

In the op-ed piece, Pawlenty says “Democrats have been busy tinkering with a Washington takeover of the health-care system,” when they should look at how states like Minnesota have handled the escalating costs of health care.

“Gov. Pawlenty’s op-ed tries to scare us with words like ‘Washington takeover’ and ‘socialized medicine’,” says AFSCME spokeswoman Jennifer Munt. “Yet, that’s exactly what he’s suggesting.”