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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Exploding Cost of Healthcare

Category: US Politics
Posted: 04/04/05 14:19

By Jay H. Steele

There is a sobering article today in the Los Angeles Times about the numbers of middle class Americans who are becoming "insured poor." As health insurance costs explode, the percentage of their income consumed by insurance premiums is forcing them to make painful choices about whether to turn off their heat, drop their automobile insurance, take on more work, or join the growing ranks of the uninsured in America. Here are a few graphs from the article:

...As employees continue to absorb more of their healthcare costs, an increasing number of people ? even healthy ones ? are drastically altering their lives simply to hold on to their insurance. They are delaying homeownership, putting off saving for their children's education, or otherwise sacrificing their financial security to guard against a catastrophic medical bill.

Many people, especially lower- and middle-class workers and the chronically ill, are beginning to spend a once-unimaginable share of their income on health coverage. In some cases, health costs have become the single biggest expense in family budgets.

Between 2000 and 2004, the number of people spending more than 25% of their earnings on healthcare ? a figure normally associated with homeownership ? rose by nearly a fourth to 14.3 million people, according to Washington, D.C.-based Families USA, a healthcare advocacy group. Over the same period, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, health premiums rose an average of 59%; federal data show the average employee's earnings rose 12.4%.

"Healthcare has always been expensive. But it's become more than that now," says Glenn Melnick, a Rand Corp. economist and a USC professor of healthcare finance. "How much of someone's income is too much to spend on healthcare? 10%? 30%?"

"More people are nearing a tipping point," says Mark Goldberg, senior vice president for policy at the National Coalition on Health Care, an organization of businesses, provider groups and pension funds that advocates for affordable healthcare. "Eventually, something has to give."

Like the house-rich, cash-poor who stretch their finances to pay for housing, those who are barely holding on to their coverage are increasingly known as the "insured poor." Eventually, many probably will lose the battle, joining the 45 million Americans without medical coverage.

The strain on employees and their families isn't likely to abate any time soon. Estimates are that health expenses will continue to increase three to four times as fast as salaries over the next several years.

I wonder how many Americans losing their health insurance it is going to take before we rise up and force the government to stop kissing up to the insurance companies and start serving the needs of individuals and families struggling to make ends meet. The middle class is shrinking fast and God help you if you are poor.
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DFLers on the Hot Seat on Education Vote

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 04/04/05 11:21

By Jay H. Steele

Kudos to Star Tribune columnist Lori Sturdevant for her Sunday column highlighting the defection of the 6 DFL legislators who crossed the line and voted with the Republicans against the bi-partisan education amendment. She correctly pointed what it means to support the Republican plan -- money to support education is going to come out of support for MinnesotaCare, and 27,000 more families are going to lose health care. A few key paragraphs from her post:

Here's a stab at describing the unfolding drama: Everybody wants to spend more on education. Pawlenty and most (but, significantly, not quite all) Republicans want to pay for that increase with revenue from three sources: new casinos, higher property taxes, and a squeeze on health care that includes denying MinnesotaCare coverage to single, childless adults.

That's 27,000 people, for whom no other health insurance is available or affordable. They pay modest premiums for their coverage, which is also funded by a 2 percent "provider tax" on health care services, shown to be more than justified by the savings in reduced charity care the program produces.

For Barnick, Mewhorter and thousands of other enrollees with chronic medical conditions, losing MinnesotaCare would mean quitting their jobs, going on welfare, and getting health care called Medicaid. For that, state and federal taxpayers would pay.

For thousands more who need medical care sporadically, the MinnesotaCare alternative is "ER Care," as in, run to the emergency room for every condition that needs professional attention. ER Care is already in force for the estimated 36,000 people who lost MinnesotaCare after the 2003 Legislature's cuts, said Sue Stout of the Minnesota Hospital Association. Uncompensated care at Minnesota hospitals was up 30 percent last year as a result.

The cost of that care doesn't magically disappear from hospital balance sheets. It's passed along to everybody who has health insurance.

So the GOP plan for increasing education funding is You Pay More, through higher health costs, higher property taxes, and the money you or your neighbors leave at a new casino.

The DFL plan is You Pay More, through an increase in some yet-to-be-specified state tax -- income, sales, sin or otherwise.

Or so it appeared, until last Tuesday. That's when the initial move by the House DFL caucus and two brave moderate Republicans, Dan Dorman and Ron Erhardt, to aim toward paying for more education funding with a state tax increase was fouled up by the cold-footed votes of six DFLers. On a crucial amendment, they strayed to the Republican side. That scuttled the first promising attempt in years at building a bipartisan, moderate-middle, budget-balancing coalition.

Those six deserve to be named: Dan Larson and Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington; Larry Hosch of St. Joseph, Joe Opatz of St. Cloud, Bev Scalze of Little Canada, and Denise Dittrich of Champlin. I'd bet that every one of them campaigned last fall on a promise to increase education funding.

I wish they too had been at Christ Lutheran on Wednesday night. I wish they had heard how the lives of some of this state's least fortunate citizens will be ruined if a state budget that cuts them out of MinnesotaCare becomes law. Then I would have turned to the straying six and asked, Is this how you intended for Minnesota to pay for the education increase you promised?

I hope these legislators are getting an earful from their progressive constituents. If you live in their districts please voice your displeasure.
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Troops in the Lege!

Posted: 04/01/05 12:21, Edited: 04/01/05 13:03

by Glen Marshall

I have the deepest respect for the people that protect our country. I admire their ability to put their own best interests behind them in favor of defending often ungrateful citizens. Soldiers' willingness to take an order and go with it, regardless of the personal harm that may come to them, is the stuff of true heroism.

Now, there are a couple of former soldiers that represent me in a couple of different legislative bodies. Actually, I'm sure that there are many, but there are two in particular that feel the need to crow about it...a lot:

John Kline, US Representative from Minnesota, CD2
Lynn Wardlow, State Representative of Minnesota, District 38B

To listen to these two guys, the personna of the soldier is so much a part of their identity that they can't shake it. The profession of the soldier is an honorable one of service; however, you better leave your whole idea of "chain of command" at the door when you step into the lege.

I watched in astonishment as Lynn Wardlow defended his failure to defend a potential fix for Minnesota's schools with the excuse: well, the Governor would probably have vetoed it anyway.

What? WHAT? I'm sorry, Mr. Wardlow... this ain't the Marines anymore. You don't wait for your orders to determine what battle is winnable or which one is important. You decide what your constituents want, you decide upon the honest, moral and ethical stance and you make the decision on your own.

You aren't a soldier anymore, and your party is not the brass. You are a failure as a representative if you think that anywhere NEAR the majority of the people of Eagan, Minnesota want you to drop the ball and not make a ruckus about the gutting of our schools. A true hero would have voted to protect schools regardless of his chances of victory. The nobility of championing even the most lost of causes, if it be a noble cause, is a compelling thing to a voter.

And don't you slink away anywhere, John "The Football" Kline. In order to support your party leadership, you abandoned your party's central ideal: small government. You voted to introduce the Federal Government into a family's tragedy. Time to stop following orders and to start representing your constituents.

Now, Mark Dayton voted with you on this issue. But there's an important difference. He knew that he would be savaged by his own party for doing so. I intensely disagree with him on this vote. But do you know what? I can be pretty sure that his vote was a vote of conscience. I also believe that I could discuss the issue with him and then walk away either understanding his point of view or even possibly convincing him to change his view. Either way, I believe that he would discuss the issue honestly.

So, Mr. Kline and Mr. Wardlow, it's time for you to be legislators, not soldiers for your party. Your constituents are your commanding officers. You may disagree with them and you may even vote against their wishes, but you better damn well have a better reason than wanting to be on the winning side or taking marching orders from your party.
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