COL State health care initiative just what doctor ordered

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has followed through on his January promise to create a health care forum to search for solutions to the rising cost of basic health services in Minnesota.

He gave the effort a boost last week when he tabbed former U.S. Sen. David Durenburger as its leader.

Durenburger, although he had his share of problems in the Senate, has long been admired for his expertise on health care issues.

Rural Minnesotans, small business owners and corporations know all-too-well that the U.S. health care system is headed for a meltdown. The collapse covers health care insurance availability, insurance costs and soaring health-care costs.

Rural areas face additional problems. A shortage of doctors, hospital closings, dwindling numbers of nursing home beds and keeping and attracting health care professionals and mountains of paperwork are among them.


Medicare reimbursement differentials between urban and rural areas is another problem that Congress is attempting to address. Minnesota Rep. Gil Gutknecht has taken a leadership role in addressing the high cost of prescription drugs.

In 2000, more than 50 percent of the nation's 2,200 rural hospitals reported that Medicare made up more than half of their gross revenue, compared with 31 percent of urban hospitals, according to the AHA.

Across Iowa, Medicare patients represent about 16 percent of the population, a figure matched by Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Alabama and Pennsylvania. Only Florida and West Virginia have more at 17 percent.

The last major attempt to reform America's health care system ended in abject failure. Led by Hilary Clinton, the Clinton administration proposed a national health care system during his first term.

The debate over health care reform isn't about a national system. Reform must be based on equitable treatment for every citizen, regardless of where they live and how much money they make. The worsening situation in health care threatens the economic health of the country.

Businesses -- large and small -- and farmers cannot prosper if health care costs eat up their profits. Ignoring the crisis -- as many tend to do -- will only make its ultimate impact worse.

The only bone to pick with Pawlenty's forum members is that it lacks rural representation. It would have been a good idea had he picked a farm organization official.

Pawlenty is attempting to do something about that at the state level. The 18-member forum has a tough task ahead. Under Durenburger's leadership, there's a good chance its efforts will make progress in this area.


Meanwhile, lawmakers from Iowa and Minnesota have to put the pressure on in Washington to bring sanity back to the ailing health-care system.

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