Health care forum features lively candidate debate

Oct. 6, 2008

Check out candidate profiles in the Voters' Guide for District 19B and District 18B

By Lynda Jensen

Four candidates squared off Tuesday to discuss health care issues in a race for two state representative seats.

Running for the open seat in District 18B (primarily the Howard Lake, Cokato and Meeker County areas) are State Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) and DFL challenger Dr. David Detert of Litchfield.

Running for the open seat in District 19B (primarily the Waverly and Delano areas) are State Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Delano) and DFL challenger Chris Brazelton of Delano

The crowd was relatively light, but discussion lively as candidates took stances that were common for their respective political party.

Brazelton questioned a system that appears to be set up for the benefit of insurance companies and private gain, at the expense of those who aren’t in perfect health and aging.

Emmer said that a free market system without government intervention would drive costs of health care down and be better for everyone. He noted that there was nothing wrong with making a profit, but that looking at health care costs and leaving the market open – such as the decrease in prices for laser eye surgery – was the answer.

“Is it ethical for the state to mandate what is covered and what isn’t?” Emmer asked. “I don’t think so.” He pointed to the fact that other people come to America for treatment.

Brazelton said that not all regulation is a bad thing, suggesting stronger consumer protection. She said insurance companies make decisions based on profit, and not what is best for the patient, when it comes to drugs being covered and the kinds of treatments used.

Detert said that there is a big difference between real competition and so-called competition amongst insurance companies. When it comes to costs, he estimated that an hour of his day as a medical doctor is spent filling out paperwork given out by different insurance companies, and that this is where government should step in.

An example was given of the state of Utah, which standardized its form.

Urdahl agreed, noting that an initiative by Gov. Tim Pawlenty is being worked on that may adopt a form used in Utah to standardize billing procedures.

Brazelton quoted this kind of paperwork as taking up as much as 30 percent of a given bill.

Urdahl noted that in Minnesota, 94 percent of people are already insured and that of the remainder, 60 percent are insurable. “I believe the government needs to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves,” he added.

Emmer maintained that most people who are uninsured chose to be that way.

“It’s not a choice when you can’t afford it,” Brazelton said. “I don’t call that a choice.”

Emmer said that Minnesota Care, an insurance system set up in 1992, was “sucking the state dry.” It should be disbanded, he said.

Brazelton said she herself used Minnesota Care while working for a family owned small business, along with her family and grandson. “I am floored that you think we should get rid of it,” she told Emmer.

The health care system in Canada was quoted as being something to model after, but actively debated over whether it actually worked and the wait times associated with Canadian services.

Urdahl said Canadians wait 10.1 weeks for an MRI, 27.2 weeks for neurosurgery, and 18.3 weeks for therapeutic treatment. He himself had a disc repaired in the back of his neck, with the doctor looking at it July 3 and surgery taking place July 7. “I had difficulty holding a pen,” he noted. If he was in Canada, the outcome might have been “disastrous.”

Frequently, Canadian citizens will travel to the US for their health care due to the substantial waiting times that come with that care, Urdahl said. “The busiest hospital in the nation is in Detroit – the Canadians come to Detroit,” he said.

Brazelton said the US should look to other countries such as Germany for answers. “Fifty percent of bankruptcies are medical-related,” she said.

Brazelton decried a system where the government was unable to negotiate with insurance companies.

Emmer pointed out that Medicare paid 50 cents on the dollar and was “wholly inadequate and failing.” “It’s a great example of why socialism doesn’t work,” he said.

Detert noted that the push for deregulation might have the same impact as the deregulation that prompted the stock market mess. “We, in the US, pay for research for the rest of the world,” Detert said. Meanwhile, other countries have cheaper drugs because they negotiate with companies, he added. The part D in Medicaid was made for the benefit of insurance companies, he said.

Who represents you?

District 18B includes the cities of Annandale, Cokato, Howard Lake, and South Haven, and the townships of Cokato, Corinna, French Lake, Middleville, Stockholm, and Southside in Wright County, and extends west into Meeker County (covering all of Meeker).

District 19B consists of communities in eastern Wright County and a small portion of western Hennepin County. These include the cities of Albertville, Delano, Hanover, Montrose, Otsego, Rockford, St. Michael, Waverly; and townships Franklin, Rockford, Victor, and Woodland.

For the general Voters' Guide, click here.

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