Being aware that the fourth meeting of the Minnesota Health Care Financing Task Force is taking place today reminded me of the troubling story of Debra Barnhardt, who testified at the August meeting of the Task Force.
She spoke about the difficulty of dealing with chronic health issues with and without insurance. The reality is that for the individual with chronic health issues, there is little difference between being completely uninsured and being insured with high deductibles. Medications are so expensive as a result of the high deductibles, that treatment and medications are put off until the chronic issue puts them in the emergency room.
I spent many years working for organizations that provided great insurance benefits that I never had to use. I also spent nearly 20 years self-employed and could not afford the premiums for individual insurance. I was lucky to have sustained only minor injuries and illnesses during this time, but did experience issues for which I should have seen a doctor, but didn't to avoid the expense.
Back to Debra. She has a bronze plan through the MNsure insurance exchange. While she is grateful for having insurance, she still has a $6,300 deductible, as well as co-pays. So she is waiting for the day she is eligible for Medicare so she can address nagging health issues.
I would like the Task Force to recommend to the Legislature that MinnesotaCare's current income cap be increased from 200 percent to 400 percent of the poverty threshold. The Task Force should also recommend that MNsure put in place a policy that plans offered on the exchange have deductibles no higher than $1,000. Doing this would mean the MNsure board is exercising a right granted to it in its enabling legislation.
As I write this, insurance companies in Minnesota plan to increase premiums in a range of 14 percent to 49 percent—that's a clear signal that our state health insurance companies (HMOs) need to be reined in. The Minnesota Health Care Finance Task Force should focus less on insurance, and more on the real people who need healthcare.
Al Kruse is a member of the Land Stewardship Project's Healthcare Organizing Committee. For more on LSP's "Affordable Healthcare for All" work, click here.