Health care above politics

Lawmakers have the chance to enact sensible health-care reform.

On Wednesday, Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, I-Rochester, and Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, introduced a comprehensive health-care reform bill before the Legislature. Their legislation, modeled after a reform plan drafted by the Minnesota Medical Association, aims at eliminating the state’s uninsured population while improving the cost and quality of health care.

The bill is a useful starting point for a long-overdue discussion on the kind of health-care system Minnesota should provide. Legislators of both parties should approach the plan with a spirit of bipartisanship and a willingness to work together for the best solution.

By now, the need for fundamental health-care reform in Minnesota should be obvious. Although the state’s uninsured rate – approximately 8 percent at last count – is well below the national average, it still leaves more than 400,000 people without access to high quality, affordable care. The increasing cost of health care has left the state’s insured population with higher out-of-pocket costs and, in some cases, scaled-back benefits.

The Kiscaden-Abeler bill would tackle those problems with refreshing boldness. It would require every Minnesotan to purchase health insurance and every insurance carrier to offer a set of minimum benefits. More significantly, insurers could no longer base premiums on age or health status – practices that make insurance unaffordable for older Minnesotans and those in poor health.

The bill also includes a slew of proposals to modernize the state’s health-care system, including incentives for improving the quality of care and grants to promote the use of electronic medical records. Smoking, a clear source of future health-care needs, would be banned in all public places and the cigarette tax would increase by $1.

Several elements of the bill deserve careful consideration. Similar efforts to reform the individual insurance market have faltered in other states. More troubling, the bill currently contains no subsidies for low-income Minnesotans – a critical ingredient in any bill that makes health insurance mandatory.

Addressing these concerns and fashioning a sensible reform package will require a new tone from the Legislature. Simply put, there is no place for partisan politics with an issue so fundamental to the welfare of the state.