It is time to reset the national health care debate. It is time for both political parties to work together. We must wait on reform of the Medicaid programs that serve people with disabilities, the frail elderly and kids with mental health challenges. Health care reform by itself is hard enough.

Republicans licked their chops as Obamacare failed to live up to its promises. Democrats now dare the Republicans to repeal it, drooling at the political hay to be made.

Meanwhile, real families are being crushed by insurance rates that have doubled. They grieve over losing decades-old doctor relationships, and they now pay deductibles larger than most down payments on a home.

Federal reforms have made matters worse in Minnesota. The best reform would return regulation of health care and insurance to the states. Let Minnesota take care of itself.

Key in the debate is a remarkable change that has occurred over the past 20 years. The majority of Americans now believe that “health care” is a right. This forces both parties to feel that they have to “do something.”

Both Democratic and Republican plans imply that people having health insurance defines success. The unanswered question is whether health care is really just insurance. Or is it about helping people be healthy?

The Democrats put millions of additional people on Medicaid in an attempt at universal coverage, creating unaffordable federal costs, huge system issues and massive Republican heartburn. The GOP solution, which relies on clunky tax credits and insurance company subsidies, is fraught with pitfalls, is marginally cheaper and causes massive Democratic heartburn.

Both versions create unsustainable expenses and do nothing to address core issues of cost and quality.

Health insurance must be affordable, encourage prevention, cover unforeseen illnesses, prevent bankruptcies and be available to all. We will have to assist the very sick in bearing their costs, though everyone should contribute toward their care and understand what treatment really costs. And it cannot require massive government subsidies in a time when we are $20 trillion in debt.

Health care has to be about keeping people healthy, too. There is plenty of money in the system — we just need to spend it differently.

Every study says that the U.S. spends far and away the most per capita to have some of the sickest people in the developed world. That should concern all of us.

It is time for a reset. We need to improve the care we give people. We need to be open to more care options than what the profit-motivated drug companies are selling. “Better living through chemistry” cannot be our main mode of treatment. Additionally, we cannot let the insurance companies define what health is and what they will pay for. They are merely businesses, and they get rewarded for cutting costs, not cutting sickness.

There has to be a return to personal responsibility. A missing element in the politically developed plans is that we are responsible for ourselves. We ought to eat sensibly, exercise, drink more water than Coke and be engaged in our own health care to the extent we are able.

Let our doctors do their best doctoring in cooperation with patients who have chosen them from broad networks. Let them practice real prevention, not just expensive “recommended” procedures of low value, and use hospitals as a very last resort. Help the system return to its historic service ethic and confront an industry that maximizes profits for CEOs and shareholders.

We need to open our minds and consider what works across the world, including valid alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathy and detoxification. Many people are well today because they dared try something “nontraditional.”

Finally, we all realize that there is waste, fraud and abuse. Some doctors consistently treat too much, some patients habitually seek too much care, and some insurance companies routinely charge too much and deny valid treatment. Statistical analysis can purge overtreating providers, caring doctoring can reassure and guide nervous patients, and insurance companies need to remember their “health” mission, particularly those that are nonprofits.

The opportunity is now. With this reset, under its own control, Minnesota can resume its place as a national leader in health care, where people can be truly healthy.


Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, is a member of the Minnesota Senate and chairman of the Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.