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Letter: We should stop playing politics with health care

Times are tough and getting tougher. Many good, hard-working people in our area fear the future and know they are one illness away from financial disaster. It shouldn't be that way.

Two years ago 60,000 children in our state were uninsured; today that number has grown to 85,000. Ten percent of Minnesotans between the ages of 25 and 65 don't have medical coverage. Minnesota's uninsured rates are significantly higher than the national average. Most uninsured Minnesotans work, or live in a family where one or both parents are employed. Many work for a small employer or are self employed, which is why more rural Minnesotans lack health insurance compared to our urban cousins.

Rural Minnesotans with health insurance often have limited coverage with high deductibles. An alarming 25 percent of rural Minnesotans with health insurance are forced into debt because they lack adequate coverage in a medical emergency. The uninsured are more likely to be diagnosed with a disease in its advance stages, and three Minnesotans die every week due to a lack of health insurance.

The lack of affordable health insurance is harming our families and strangling our small businesses. The problem is daunting, but there are things we can do.

Our first goal should be health coverage for all children. It is a moral imperative, but it also makes sense. Transferring children from parent's health plans to MinnesotaCare or a similar state plan will reduce costs to families and businesses. We can use money in the Health Care Access Fund for this. We can allow the self employed to purchase insurance through MinnesotaCare, the state program for working families. Simple reforms that will reduce or contain health insurance costs include electronic records and uniform billings.

What we should not do is support Rod Hamilton's plan that brings in insurance companies from other states, allowing them to sell substandard and inadequate coverage. Selling employers group insurance plans that do not cover maternity costs or mental health expenses is a recipe for disaster.

Minnesota needs comprehensive health care reform. The legislature tackled the problem in the last two sessions, but the measures were blocked by Gov. Pawlenty and a minority of legislators -- including Rod Hamilton. When they could not sway their fellow legislators by reasoned debate they resorted to political games in an attempt to run down the clock or force a special session.

I believe it is time to stop playing politics with health care. I believe Minnesotans have common-sense tools to solve this problem. Health care costs are dragging down Main Street businesses and are risking the financial security of working families throughout our region. Making sure the children of Minnesota have health coverage and adults can purchase coverage at a reasonable cost is no longer an issue of charity; it is an issue of survival. Our economic future depends on it.