Health care a top legislative issueST. PAUL — Some Minnesota lawmakers and health care reform advocates say an ill state budget does not have to delay remedies to the troubled health care system.
By: Scott Wente, The Republican Eagle
ST. PAUL — Some Minnesota lawmakers and health care reform advocates say an ill state budget does not have to delay remedies to the troubled health care system.
As the 2008 legislative session opens today, top Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party lawmakers and the Pawlenty administration say they believe some improvements to the health care system are possible this year.
Legislators and others who have been involved with dozens of health care reform meetings in recent months are optimistic that by the time the Legislature’s May 19 adjournment deadline arrives, Minnesotans will notice some changes to a costly and problematic health care system.
In fact, health care reform could be a rare major issue on which Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and DFL lawmakers reach agreement this year, and that may stem from an understanding that a compromise will focus on finding ways to cut costs and promote preventative health care.
Rep. Tom Huntley, the top House Democrat on health care issues who recently served on two major reform panels, said the overarching goal is to go from “having a sick-care system to having a health-care system.”
Lawmakers and Pawlenty face a state budget deficit estimated at $373 million and probably growing, making the case for significant new spending difficult.
“Obviously, the budget has an impact on us,” said Huntley, a Duluth Democrat.
In advance of the session, Pawlenty has quietly met with lawmakers in recent weeks to discuss a variety of legislative issues, including health care reform. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said compromise is possible in that area.
“I think you’re seeing the coalescing of ideas,” he told reporters.
Health care reform is a contentious issue, however, and Huntley said both a legislative task force and a governor-appointed panel that developed reform recommendations will face opposition.
There are more drastic health care reform proposals floating around the Capitol. A veteran Democratic senator is teaming up with several freshmen House DFLers in promoting a so-called single-payer system in which a government-appointed board would oversee insurance coverage of all Minnesotans.
Supporters said moving to single-payer, universal coverage would allow patients to pick their doctors and focus on preventative care.
However, Pawlenty and Republican lawmakers have said they would oppose a government-run program.