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House Speaker discusses health care 'crisis' at Red Wing roundtable

Minnesota Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt called a spike in health insurance premiums a "full-blown crisis" Wednesday during a roundtable on the topic in Red Wing.

Earlier that day, Gov. Mark Dayton identified the projected 50 to 67 percent increases in health insurance premiums under Minnesota's Affordable Care Act as "a very serious problem."

Joined by Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and House District 21 candidate Barb Haley, Daudt said Wednesday's discussion wasn't "about placing blame," but reaching a solution and hearing input from members of the community.

Haley said health care ranks as one of the most common grievances she hears among constituents in the regions. A former board chair for Fairview Red Wing Health Services, she said the state's previous health insurance and delivery system met people's needs while local nonprofit efforts such as the Community Care Fund assisted those without insurance.

"Our usage pattern for access to health care hasn't changed, but cost of delivering that care — to give you a shot for your strep throat — the system has changed," she said. "What's frustrating for the voters in Minnesota is what did you, the government, do with my system?"

Among the voters Haley referred to is Anne Buck, who operates a dairy farm in Goodhue with her husband, Dave. At the roundtable, Buck said her family's policy with Blue Cross Blue Shield costs about $2,000 per month with a $13,000 deductible. She expects rising costs with the company to result in her being dropped from coverage.

"We can't even afford our own insurance, let alone employees'," she said. "We have people who we wanted to hire but couldn't, because we couldn't offer health insurance, and he was getting benefits at a different place. I don't know what we're going to do."

Local author Kristina Lunde also expressed frustration with Blue Cross Blue Shield, which she canceled when she married her husband. His pension put MNsure out of her reach, she said, and she's unable to get on her husband's health care.

"I was thinking of leaving this area, particularly because it was so expensive since you have to have the Mayo supplement," she said. "Mine would increase anywhere from 50 to 100 percent in the options I was being offered. Medica's not even offering enough policies to cover the people that would be willing to possibly pay that."

Brad Mader, manager of Lincare in Red Wing, said the system created a "double-edged sword."

"You want to try to take care of the patients and do the right thing for them, but keep your staff and competitive wages to keep people coming in to pay for their health care," he said.

Kelly said issues like these are "very specific" to southeastern Minnesota.

"I know you hear similar types of stories, but when you're talking about 50 percent higher, this is absolutely a crisis situation for this whole region," he said.

Despite the frustrations expressed at the roundtable, Daudt said the governor's statement about the Affordable Care Act is a "big step" toward a resolution.

"We can't fix this unless everyone admits that there is a problem, and it's been difficult to get everybody around the table to admit it," he said. "Part of it is our fault — we have been trying to raise red flags that this is a problem, but they took that personally. I don't care about the politics side, this is people's lives and families."