COL Health care committee aim is to control costs

Former Sen. Durenberger appointed chairman

"It can't be solved by spending money; it can only be solved by changing."

-- Statement on the steep rise in health care costs by former Sen. David Durenberger, newly appointed chairman of a Minnesota citizens committee on health care.


; Gov. Tim Pawlenty has taken a positive step in naming a citizens committee to make recommendations to the Legislature on ways to control zooming health care costs.


As chairman he named former Sen. David Durenberger, long regarded as an expert on health care and now a teacher at the University of St. Thomas. He also is a health care consultant.

The 18-member panel includes members of the medical and nursing professions, business leaders, a union executive, a former majority leader in the Senate and others. One member is Dr. Douglas Wood, a cardiovascular specialist and chairman of the Mayo Clinic's Department of Medicine.

Pawlenty has asked the committee to propose short-term solutions to the Legislature in January and to make more comprehensive recommendations at a later date. He gave the commission freedom to consider all types of solutions and said, "We'll let the chips fall where they may."

According to a report in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, the state Health Department has said that health care costs in Minnesota totaled $19.3 billion in 2000, about 10.5 percent of the state's overall economy. It also said that health care costs rose 16 percent in 2002.

On the national scene, health care premiums for families in employee-sponsored plans have increased 13.9 percent in 2003, and the premium charges for small firms, with three to nine workers, went up 16.6 percent.

A number of factors have contributed to the rapid increase in health care costs. They include the aging of the population, the proliferation of highly effective but expensive medical technology and the uncontrolled cost of prescription drugs. According to Pawlenty, unmanageable health care costs were the main cause of the state's severe budget problems and most businesses can make the same statement.

Pawlenty has named respected and highly competent individuals to the panel (they are listed below). However, one criticism has some merit. Twila Brase, president of the Citizens' Council on Health Care, a St. Paul non-profit group, said it is "heavily weighted toward continuing and expanding the bureaucracy of health care."

The committee appears to include few advocates for low-income people who have had the most serious difficulty in obtaining health care. One exception might be Jesse Bethke Gomez, president of Chicano-Latinos Unidos En Servicios. In the interest of getting a broader view of the issue from outsiders as well as insiders, Pawlenty would be well-advised to add two or three members who can represent this perspective.


A national commission on the same sort is needed. Hopefully Minnesota's committee will produce recommendations that also can be applied in other states.

Minnesotans a have been bludgeoned by the impact of a $4.2 billion deficit, resulting in increased costs and reduced services. One of the main drivers of that deficit has been the constraint pressure of rising health care costs. Pawlenty should be commended for naming a panel that can offer legislators some proposals for reducing that pressure.

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