Farmfest Forum Sheds Light on Positive Role Government Can Play in Healthcare

When we talk to our friends and neighbors who are on Medicare, they are happy with it and sure don’t want to give it up. The same is said by veterans who use Veteran’s Administration healthcare. Social Security is another popular government run program. We need to build on this success.

During an “Addressing the Rural Health Care Dilemma” panel discussion held at Farmfest in Redwood Falls earlier this momth, Minnesota’s Commissioner of Human Services, Emily Piper, spelled out ways that another government run program, Medical Assistance (a healthcare program for Minnesota’s poor) is helping to control healthcare costs. One of the innovations that is part of Medical Assistance is called “value based care.” This initiative rewards improved outcomes for patients, rather than paying by volume of visits. Although it has only been used on a trial basis, this approach has already saved $200 million in three years. This is evidence of a government program that gets better health outcomes and saves money in part because it deals with a high volume of people and is accountable to Minnesota for the money it spends.

One of the biggest concerns family farmers and small businesses face is the high cost of health insurance in the individual market, with no real relief in sight. And for those who do have insurance, there’s no guarantee the policy will cover care at the nearby clinic. Commissioner Piper said that Minnesota should give more serious consideration to Governor Mark Dayton’s proposal to offer an opportunity for people on the individual market to a buy into MinnesotaCare. Through MinnesotaCare, people could get a health insurance policy that is 15 percent cheaper than what’s offered by companies, with lower deductibles, more comprehensive benefits, and wider networks (more choice when it comes to doctors and hospitals).

Such an option uses the state’s volume buying power to get more affordable insurance to Minnesotans, which is especially important for farmers who make use of the individual market. During the 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature, the Republican majority rejected this proposal in favor of giving $542 million in taxpayer dollars to insurers in the “hope” that they will lower premiums. It is time to demand our state legislature not throw all its support behind corporate insurance, but instead recognize the economic value of public programs like MinnesotaCare.

We should be utilizing our state’s purchasing power to create a very large pool of patients to lower costs. This could easily be done through MinnesotaCare. Private insurance companies would then face the challenge of matching or exceeding what MinnesotaCare offers people on the individual market, injecting more healthy competition into the marketplace. Right now, insurance companies are holding hostage the Minnesotans who must buy insurance in the individual private market.

It is similar to the same monopoly situation that farmers face when purchasing seed corn. With just a few companies left selling seed, we have seen that, despite our corn crop prices falling to less than half of what they were a few years ago, our seed costs have not gone down one bit. Why? Because, just like in healthcare, the idea of a fair, competitive market situation in the seed business is a myth.

We don’t need to accept such an unfair takeover of the marketplace. In the case of healthcare, we can use the state purchasing power of a large pool to get quality, affordable healthcare to more rural Minnesotans.

Paul Sobocinski is a livestock farmer from Wabasso and a Land Stewardship Project organizer. Dr. Aleta Borrud is a physician from Rochester. Leslea Hodgson is a farmer from Fountain. Al Kruse lives in Marshall and formerly worked in the farm implement industry. All four are members of LSP’s Healthcare Organizing Committee.