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Senate Democrats propose health plan

By Patrick Howe

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Senate Democrats hope to fix state health care inflation the same way oil drillers stop gushers: By simply capping the geyser down.

Sen. Linda Berglin, the Minneapolis DFLer who is the Senate's expert on health care, proposed an intricate plan Monday she says could both reduce spending and increase the number of insured.

One cornerstone would flatly bar health plans from raising premiums more than 6 percent per year. That compares with increases in the years 2000-2002 of 16 percent, 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

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"Just capping premiums is not going to cap the increased costs of medical care," said Julie Brunner, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, a trade group representing managed care plans.

But Berglin said other parts of her plan, which she estimates would cost the state about $65 million per year, would reduce those underlying costs.

She would:

Allow businesses with 50 or fewer employees to join the MinnesotaCare program, a subsidized insurance program for working people. Companies that don't currently offer insurance would be first in line.

Let people without prescription drug coverage buy medicines at the discount rates given to bulk purchasers.

Reverse some of the cuts in state-run health insurance programs made in the last session.

Have a task force compile a list of health procedures the state would no longer pay to cover. It's a move toward what's called evidence-based medicine, something Oregon adopted in 1994. There, it means the state no longer pays doctors to treat the common cold or lower back pain, for example. Berglin said health plans would be encouraged to end coverage for things on the list as well.

Offer scholarships to increase the number of health care workers.

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The list has little in common with a health care plan offered last month by Republicans who control the House.

Their plan would cap malpractice pain-and-suffering awards in lawsuits and allow for-profit health maintenance organizations to offer health plans in Minnesota, something state law forbids.

Both plans, though, would encourage doctors to follow accepted "best practices" of care such.

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