Taking our health care for granted in more ways than we might think

The working poor will lack health care so a “no-tax” pledge can survive.

Our Medical School is the most expensive public school in the nation, possibly the world. Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget and bonding proposal effectively reduces preventative care for our entire state, by overspending in corrections and prison expansions, underfunding education, and most significantly, slashing MinnesotaCare, a health-insurance program for low-income Minnesotans. Does anyone else notice a pattern here?

If we value health care, we need to prioritize funding for training the next generation of providers: nurses, technicians and physicians alike. Importantly, we need to provide health insurance for all. Bills that provide health insurance for all of Minnesota’s children, such as the Minnesota Children’s Health Security Act, are a good first step.

Denying health-insurance coverage to our low-income communities will mean increased emergency room visits and reduced health care for our most vulnerable families. The long-term result of this will be a more expensive health-care system. Patients who will no longer receive state subsidized insurance will forgo preventative treatment to save money, resulting in increased emergency room visits, which is the most expensive type of health care. This plan will shift the cost of care from state taxpayers to hospitals, clinics and physicians who treat the poor and uninsured. Ultimately, these costs will be pushed back to the taxpayers in the form of increased health-care costs.

We call for Minnesota’s elected leaders to provide for the long-term health of our communities. In the last census, Minnesota could boast one of the two lowest uninsured rates in the nation. More importantly, Minnesotans are, on average, the healthiest people in our country. Unlike most Minnesotans, our governor sees this as a liability, not as an asset.

He repeatedly bemoans the fact that the MinnesotaCare covers adults without dependent children. He calls such beneficiaries of MinnesotaCare “able-bodied” and, thus, undeserving of help from the state.

True, they might be able-bodied. But being able-bodied in no way assures that you will have health insurance in the United States. In 2004, Families USA, a nonpartisan health-policy think tank, found that 79 percent of the United States’ uninsured were either employed or lived with a parent or spouse who was employed. These are the working poor.

Pawlenty is trading the pride of our state, our humane public policies, to keep a disingenuous pledge to not raise taxes. As medical students, we find this revocation of health care, and therefore health, to be morally unsupportable.

The pending bonding bill increases funding for building more prisons at a time when we are cutting funding for health care. Prison expansion -spending $100 million during a fiscal crisis for approximately 1,000 new beds – will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run. The costs for operating these larger prisons are not included in the bonding bill. This is financially irresponsible.

Additionally, we cannot ignore the fact approximately one-third of the incarcerated have mental health issues and one-half struggle with substance-abuse issues that remain underaddressed as it is. Locking people up without treating the real problems behind criminality serves no one.

Reports show that every $1 million spent on prevention prevents 250 crimes per year. Spending the same million on prisons prevents only 60 crimes. We medical students will not trade the health of our communities to invest in more prisons.

Rebecca Trotzky-Sirr and Josh Lackner are first-year medical students. Their opinion was co-signed by 48 of their classmates. Please send comments to [email protected].