AUSTIN EDITION - Senators discuss health-care issues, answers
By Tim Ruzek
State senators warned Tuesday of a bleak future with continually rising health-care costs if something isn't done now to improve the system.
"We have some real crises ahead of us," said Sen. Becky Lourey, a DFLer from Kerrick, Minn., who is chairwoman of the Health and Family Security Committee.
With the state facing another budget deficit, Lourey said she doesn't know how health care could hold up if more cuts came from the health budget.
Lourey joined three other senators, including Sen. Dan Sparks, a DFLer from Austin, in discussing health-care issues Tuesday during an open forum at St. Mark's Lutheran Home in Austin. About 25 people attended.
Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, an Independent from Rochester, said health insurance is becoming a big problem statewide.
"There are no easy answers," she said.
Employers are finding it almost impossible to provide health insurance and cost-of-living increases to salaries, Kiscaden said.
Lourey, who owns a small business with her husband, said they won't eliminate a health-care plan for their 78 employees, but the high costs of that plan prevent them from hiring more workers.
The cost of health insurance has grown 3.5 times faster than the state's economy and its workers' wages, according to handouts given at the meeting. Health insurance costs have risen by 59 percent since 2000, while workers' wages have increased 12 percent.
Medical costs for insured Minnesotans have grown 57 percent in the past four years, according to the senators' handouts.
If costs keep rising at the current rate, health care will cost a family $22,000 by 2010, said Sen. Linda Berglin, a DFLer from Minneapolis.
Tom Higgins, a rural Austin retiree, told the senators he paid more than $350 in out-of-pocket costs after insurance coverage for a 20-minute physical. Eventually, he said, the cost of health care will force him to spend all of his Social Security.
"Health care is consuming my resources," Higgins said.
Berglin outlined several proposals DFLers are seeking. The party is focusing on cutting costs but not health-care coverage, she said.
Some of the ideas included getting every medical provider on a statewide electronic medical records system, implementing evidence-based medicine and best practices, passing the Fair Drug Pricing Act, and encouraging disease management and prevention.
Berglin also mentioned creating partnerships with businesses of 50 or fewer employees to provide more affordable health insurance.