The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 19, 2013

Affordable health care is within our reach

Detractors of Obamacare should come up with alternatives

---- — Health reform is a journey, not a destination. As a Minnesota businessman, U.S. Senator, and MBA health policy instructor, I’ve been on this journey for nearly 40 years. Now I also experience reform first hand. Change for the better in population health, in health care delivery, in the professions, and in health-care financing is everywhere you look in Minnesota. Including in the much slower rate of growth in health care costs.

Health care is still far from affordable for most Americans without the financial assistance of taxpayer and employer subsidies. That’s the price we are all paying for an inefficient system that has not kept up with the growth of knowledge about good and bad health nor with the information technology revolution that has made that information available to every consumer of every product except health care. The other price we’ve paid is in population health where this country ranks last among all developed countries in our health and first in what it costs us to get sick.

Almost every health care association in this country joined President Obama back in March of 2009 in calling for health policy reform. To speed up the progress toward a reformed health system by expanding coverage to more uninsured Americans. And by drastically changing the rules for health insurance plans and the way in which they and public programs finance value in health care delivery.

The result is what history will know as Obamacare. Its policy history can be found in bi-partisan consensus on comprehensive policy change that goes back to the congressional efforts which I helped lead to find an alternative to President Clinton’s reform proposal.

Yet every single Republican in Congress chose not to participate in its passage and attacked its content. For more than three years since it became law, Republicans at every level of government have attacked its implementation. They’ve weakened its financing and turned public opinion against the law at just the time that its major policy changes become effective.

This occurs at the same time that health systems like Mayo and Allina and Health Partners and many others in this state have counted on implementation. The result is opinions such as those expressed by Al DeKruif and the Minnesota Citizens Council on Health Freedom in The Free Press July 13th.

Those who want to see more affordable and accountable care and more competitive health insurance plans and more choice on the part of every health care consumer and patient in Minnesota should come forward with recommendations to improve the new law. Starting with the many employers in this state who obviously have much better ideas than the authors of the law about the tax treatment, the mandate requirement, or the employee role in health plan choice.

Republicans have so far been successful in preventing coverage expansion for 2/3 of the 30 million Americans newly eligible in 27 states. This is a good time for Republicans in Congress to play a positive role in the health reform journey by demonstrating their willingness to improve the new law rather than waging war on its implementation for those who need it most.

I believe we are on the verge of creating a uniquely American health system. One which plays to our innovative and entrepreneurial strengths as a nation. Not to the weakness of partisan polarization which saps our strength just when we need everyone working together toward common goals of healthier people, healthier communities, and a more affordable and accountable, value-based health care system.

David F. Durenberger is a former Republican U.S. senator from Minnesota, a member of the Board of Directors of Allina Health and an instructor at the University of St. Thomas.