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Minnesota 2020 Journal: Subverting Healthcare Reform

November 11, 2011 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow

I write this from home while caring for a sick child. She has a cold, a garden variety cold, but she clearly needs a day of rest rather than a sick slog through school. Adjusting my schedule on the fly, I’m particularly focused on Minnesota’s healthcare needs.

It’s been a challenging healthcare reform week in Minnesota. The usual conservative oppositional intransigence was kicked up a notch with the latest attempt to kill federal healthcare reform’s implementation in our state. My regular low-grade frustration is tipping into a light boil.

Conservative policy advocates oppose healthcare reform. Sure, they give lip service to efficient markets as the best service and insurance delivery mechanism but, as a practical matter, they oppose healthcare reform and work to preserve the status quo. The status quo is not affordable healthcare. And, if there’s anything we really need right now, it’s accessible, affordable healthcare.

Minnesotans regularly and reliably experience conservative opposition at the state and federal levels. Minnesota State Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) chiefly leads the conservative opposition to healthcare reform, using a legislative procedural maneuver to block Governor Dayton from using federal funds to begin establishing a state health insurance exchange.

Hann claims that he’s acting in Minnesota’s, and, presumably America’s, best interests by seeking additional legislative review of the federal grant expenditure process. In truth, he’s attempting to gum up the process, delaying public access to pooled health insurance purchasing. It’s part of the national conservative strategy to challenge federal healthcare reform, attacking implementation at every level.

This position emerges from two tenets: an oppositional political culture and traditional conservative desire to use government to protect wealth’s interests. The first serves to subversively advance the interests of the second.

Oppositional culture is the easy part. It’s the idea that, whatever it is, they’re against it. Conservative communications strategy deliberately plays on popular discontent, expressing outrage and finding fault in every policy and procedure that doesn’t flow from their side. It connects with people who believe that their lives are less advantaged than they should be. Those frustrated folks are easy pickings for conservative policy advocates eager to manipulate discontent.

Even when conservatives hold executive office or legislative majorities, elected leaders still seem more comfortable acting as political outsiders rather officials charged with leading our state. The problem with opposing everything is that, eventually, nothing gets done. But, that’s the whole point of conservative strategy.

Just this week, the Minnesota health insurance exchange task force met. The insurance exchange will function as a price and services comparison source, helping consumers better understand their options. Governor Dayton reserved two task force seats for Republican majority caucus legislators but no conservative leaders bothered to attend. They oppose healthcare reform and the insurance exchange—even a planning task force—is healthcare reform so they’re against it.

It’s increasingly apparent to me that spiraling healthcare costs are holding Minnesota back. While inflation remains low, healthcare costs continue increasing. Granted, the rate has slowed due to the economic recession and molasses-slow recovery but it still out-paces other cost increases. Realizing affordable healthcare means taking some dramatically different steps.

This is the central premise behind federal healthcare reform and its state-facilitated implementation. Sure, there’s an increase in federal regulation regarding service delivery and financial oversight but the key idea is that every American has a health insurance policy.

While conservatives are quick to paint this policy as government intrusion into private lives, the idea of creating a large shared-risk pool is as old as the insurance industry. It’s a moderate, mainstream idea. In fact, as affordable healthcare solutions go, it’s not particularly imaginative. Germany and Holland, for example, have used versions of this model for several generations.

Unsurprisingly, conservatives are manipulating their oppositional culture to protect the status quo. They would rather prevent us from cooperatively working together, forcing us to compete individually for health insurance. It’s a great deal for insurance companies but a horrible proposition for the rest of us.

The late Senator Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.” This is especially true with healthcare. Minnesota’s competitive advantage and prosperity flow from an educated, flexible and healthy workforce. We are, quite literally, money ahead by expanding affordable healthcare. Getting there, however, requires changing the way we do some things.

Affordable healthcare moves Minnesota forward. It creates family and community stability. When we work together, the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts. Opposing healthcare reform puts the interests of a wealthy few ahead of the vast majority of Minnesotans. It’s an unhealthy, unwise direction. We don’t need to be held back; we need to move ahead.

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