State health care bill passes key hurdle

  • Article by: PATRICIA LOPEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2008 - 9:27 PM

A measure that would radically alter the health scene got the state Senate's preliminary OK but faces a rough road.

A bill that would make major changes in health care gained preliminary approval in the state Senate on a 41-22 vote Thursday, but a deep divide became evident among Senate DFLers that could make for rough negotiations ahead.

In a tense debate that dragged on through the evening, some of the staunchest DFL supporters of health care found themselves opposing the bill, warning of unintended consequences, while some Republicans defended the changes.

"This could be the No Child Left Behind of health care," said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. "Some things are out of whack in this bill."

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, would vastly change the health scene in Minnesota. Providers would make their fees public. Standard benefit sets would allow consumers to compare care and prices. The state would monitor children's obesity levels, and chronic diseases could be managed through nurse phone calls as well as doctor visits.

Projected long-range cost savings would extend health coverage to 47,000 Minnesotans and allow small-business employees to buy policies with tax-free dollars.

The intent of the reforms, Berglin said, was to take the emphasis off the "10-minute office visit" and put it on effective care management, which could take multiple forms.

An amendment by Marty to remove a controversial payment mechanism failed on a 32-33 vote, with DFLers and Republicans alike saying the bill was confusing and ill-formed, with promises -- but no clear path -- to its projected savings.

'Minnesota health care at risk'

"This is all very confusing," said Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona, who is a registered nurse. "If a lot of us are real honest, we would admit there are huge sections of this bill we don't understand." The bill, she said, risked "committing Minnesotans to a path that's untested, unmeasured ... that puts Minnesota health care at risk." While she praised some elements of the bill, she said, "it's too large and unwieldy to pass."

Earlier in the day, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the bill expanded care with no guarantee of savings. "They know that the bill they have is unacceptable to me," he said. "I think it's fixable, but we'll see. We'll know more in the next few days."

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, defended the bill against DFL and GOP attacks. The proposals, she said, were the product of months of work by players in health care at all levels. "Reform is tough," she said. "We're going to have to be brave on this. It's going to hurt."

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, criticized much of the bill, especially the monitoring of children's obesity levels. "This kind of active intrusion in people's lives goes way beyond what's necessary," he said.

A final Senate vote on the bill is likely next week. A House bill has yet to be voted on.

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288

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