Minnesota Insurer Lobbies for Universal Health Care

September 7, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Minnesota health care provider has proposed the state make it mandatory for residents to have health insurance, a move it claims would stymie increases in medical expenses for individuals but cost $911 million a year.

Bringing attention to the issue, Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently published a report, which aimed at figuring out the health care insurance status of Minnesota residents that found the number of uninsured has risen from 5.7% in 2001 to 7.4% in 2004.

In the report, the insurer stops short of giving a figure of how much coverage would be required, but does suggest several ways to fund and execute the plan, which include:

  • a sliding scale of subsidies to help low-income individuals who can’t afford private coverage but make too much to qualify for government health care.
  • a state mandate that would include penalities, deducted through paychecks or tax filings, for people who didn’t get the coverage.
  • allowing children to stay on their parents insurance until the age of 25, no matter if they are enrolled in school.
  • not allowing private health care providers to reject those seeking coverage, even if they are sick or have severe medical conditions.

Other reports, including one this summer by the state’s Health Department, have estimated the cost of extending health care at $663 million, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Echoing a common argument posed by those pushing for universal health care, the Blue Cross report makes the claim that people’s illnesses get worse because they can’t afford the health care or the medicine needed to keep an illness from reaching a chronic level. The argument goes that while health care would be a big upfront cost, providing continual health care would actually bring down costs in the long run.

The Blue Cross report also made some correlations between economic status, the severity of health problems and education levels. For instance, nearly half (49%) of adults with chronic conditions do not get the prescription drugs or medical attention they need. Uninsured adults are 4.5 times more likely to report an unmet need for prescription drugs or medical care; however, these adults are three to four times more likely to go without that care.

Also, the report says communities are already are bearing the cost of those without health insurance in the form of swelling emergency rooms with patients that could have been treated before an illness reached an emergency level. For instance, 65% of the total cost of health care services is not paid by the uninsured themselves, and this year the cost of uncompensated care is expected to reach $250 million this year.

According to the report, the uninsured are most heavily populated in low income households, among Hispanics, young adults, and those living in rural areas of the state.

If the push by the health care insurer passes legislative muster, it would send the state down a similar path trodden by others making efforts to rein in health care costs.

Tennessee 's governor signed a bill in June that calls for a $50 a month contribution by the state per employee, an optional contribution by employers, and for employees to pay the rest of the $150 per month premium (See TN Gov. Signs Health Care Bill). A plan in Vermont called for the state to subsidize premiums for low-income individuals or subsidize premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for individuals covered by employer plans (See VT Health Care Reform Moves Forward). In May, Michigan 's governor introduced a plan to cover all 1.1 million residents who are uninsured (See MI's Granholm Joins Health Reform Trend).

Overturning the veto of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (See Romney Vetoes Per-Employee Health Coverage Charge) , the state senate passed in May a measure that would require employers with at least 11 workers that do not offer health insurance to contribute $295 per employee to toward coverage (See Mass. Senate Votes To Fine Employers Not Providing Health Insurance).

However, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill for universal health care, saying the proposal"would require an extraordinary redirection of public and private funding by creating a vast new bureaucracy to take over health insurance and medical care for Californians - a serious and expensive mistake," according to the San Diego Union Tribune (See Schwarzenegger Turns Away Universal Health Proposal ).

For the full Blue Cross report go here .