Health Care is Not Free

A recent editorial in this paper by a former Republican Senator has asked me to tell Minnesotans that MNsure should be scrapped and we should hand over control of our state exchange to the federal government. I will not. For all its flaws and controversy, MNsure has improved our statewide quality of life, and counter to common belief, actually saves more taxpayer money compared to the proposed federal takeover of our exchange.

The line of reasoning in the editorial is tempting, because it caters to and manipulates many of our fears about health care. It also leaves out important facts, spreads debunked falsehoods, and ends up misrepresenting a complex program that addresses inequality in our health care system and saves individual Minnesotans thousands of dollars.

As a State Senator, I am responsible for looking at all the facts and making decisions that will be best for my constituents. It would be easy to make a cynical decision and condemn MNsure in the hopes of scoring political points. The reality in our communities is that MNsure has improved the lives of thousands of our neighbors and family members, and while imperfect, still represents the best current option for Minnesota taxpayers.

Many in this state, including some of my critics, have been rightly concerned that the cost of care is rising in America. To equate this rise with MNsure’s “waste, fraud, and abuse,” however, is to argue against the facts. The cause of the rate increases seen this year was investigated by the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee, who asked the Department of Commerce and the Minnesota Council on Health Plans to explain the situation. They reported that our rates are going up for three main reasons: Minnesotans submitted more claims than anticipated, past rates were underpriced, and the cost of care given was high. When directly asked if MNsure contributed to increased premiums, the experts had a clear answer: “No.”

My critic has also suggested we take the money used to subsidize health care for those unable to pay for their own care, and instead “support free enterprise businesses that can hire these same folks for higher wages.” Thankfully, supporting both business and those employed by them is not an either/or proposition. The policies I support and will continue to vote for will build our economy while providing aid to our neighbors who need it most. I would certainly welcome additional support for my efforts to provide a livable wage for Minnesotans or targeted tax credits for businesses through MNsure, and I invite others to join me in advocating for these policies.

Finally, having our own exchange remain separate from the federal program not only keeps control of our health insurance in our own hands, it actually saves Minnesota taxpayers money. Minnesota has wisely chosen to accept federal dollars to do two things, instead of using our own money to do only one. With federal money, we have built a website to compare policies and access tax credits, and we are upgrading antiquated state technology that has previously wasted countless taxpayer dollars on repetitious data entry and inefficient paper work.

If we transitioned to the federal exchange as proposed, we would lose those dollars and instead only pay for the federal exchange. Instead of saving taxes, it would duplicate our spending. This is not to say that MNsure does not cost Minnesota taxpayers. Health care is expensive. MNsure is still being refined. These are issues we should be looking at and working to address together. As your Senator, I promise to continue to engage with the complexities of this debate, and to promote partnerships between government and health insurance companies that will use each of our strengths to improve quality and costs while assuring access to all.

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Senator Kathy Sheran
Kathy Sheran represents District 19, which includes portions of Blue Earth, Le Sueur, and Nicollet counties in the south central part of the state. She chairs the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee.

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