The recent commentary by John Spry (“Oppose Minnesota’s undemocratic single-payer health plan proposal,” Nov. 1) criticizing the proposed Minnesota Health Plan (MHP) contains inaccuracies and a severely distorted view of how the plan would work.

The Minnesota Health Plan is a proposal to cover every Minnesotan for all their medical needs. It would be legally required to put medical decision-making in the hands of patients and their doctors.

Sen. John Marty

Spry falsely claims that the Minnesota Health Plan Board “would have control over life and death decisions.” While his statement is wrong about the MHP proposal, it does accurately describe the current health system, where insurance companies, employers, and government frequently overrule choices on life-and-death decisions that doctors and patients make.

Today, decisions on which drugs are provided, which treatments are covered, and which medical providers can be seen, are determined by limited provider networks, by insurance company drug formularies, and by employer decisions on whether to include certain coverage. The MHP guarantees that neither government, nor insurance company, nor employer will interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.

Under our proposal, patients would pay premiums, not to an insurance company, but to the MHP. Those premiums would replace existing premiums and would eliminate all co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket healthcare expenses.

Instead of basing the premiums on how old and how sick one is, the MHP premiums would be based on ability to pay. Everybody would pay something, but nobody would face unaffordable costs. As a result, all Minnesotans would get the care they need – including dental, vision and hearing, mental health, chemical dependency treatment, prescription drugs, and long-term care.

No more families bankrupted by cancer. No more people having teeth pulled because they couldn’t afford dental care. No more 26-year-olds dying because they couldn’t afford the insulin needed for their diabetes.

Spry also misses the point of keeping Minnesota Health Plan funds separate from the state budget. Premiums paid for health care should be spent on health care, not transportation, or education, or other government budget priorities. Like the Social Security Trust Fund, which is designed to ensure that social security taxes are used for social security, the Minnesota Health Fund would be separate from the state treasury and could only be used for healthcare, not to balance the budget or meet other needs. That is why we say that the Legislature and governor would have no authority over the MHP revenues.

Could the Legislature take money from the health plan for other purposes? Legally it could by changing the law, but in reality, doing so would be akin to cutting social security – something that has been described as the “third rail” in American politics – they wouldn’t dare touch it.

The premiums would be set by the MHP board to ensure that there is sufficient revenue to cover the system. Obviously, those premiums would need to be ratified by the Legislature and governor through the legislative process. The Minnesota Constitution hasn’t changed, and the MHP legislation isn’t challenging it, despite Spry’s claim.

Minnesota has some of the best doctors, nurses, and other medical providers, some of the best clinics, and some of the best medical technology and research in the world. But we squander those incredible assets on a dysfunctional system for accessing care. Despite the excellent care we have available, the World Health Organization ranks the U.S. 37th in health outcomes, just ahead of Slovenia and Cuba.

The U.S. is unique in our high costs – spending twice as much as other industrialized countries. Our system is bankrupting families and killing people by failing to provide needed care.

The Minnesota Health Plan is nothing more than a common-sense plan to deliver healthcare to every Minnesotan, with no exceptions. By paying for and delivering care in a logical manner, we can cover everyone, for all their medical needs, for less than we are currently spending.

As author of the proposal, I expect to hear criticism and suggestions. There will be vibrant debates about this legislation throughout the political process. That is good; an important part of democracy. But inaccurate attacks don’t accomplish much, especially when failing to propose an alternative.

Minnesota state Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) is chief author of the proposed Minnesota Health Plan. Further information about the proposal is available at mnhealthplan.org

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