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Problems facing Hennepin Medical Center demonstrate need for reform

  • Blog Post by: Doug Stone
  • November 19, 2009 - 11:25 PM
What is wrong with this picture? In the richest country in the world and  in a state that’s traditionally committed to providing help to those in need, Minnesota’s biggest safety net hospital is going to stop serving the uninsured in non-emergency situations, close two clinics and lay off up to 200 people.

That’s what Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), the first and last resort for thousands of Minnesotans, announced on Wednesday. The hospital is coming to grips with a loss of millions of dollars as the result of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment of the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program, which serves indigent adults.

According to the StarTribune, hospital officials fear that more uninsured people, turned away from other metro hospitals, will attempt to get care at HCMC. The hospital will continue to treat uninsured people at its emergency room, as it’s required by law to do.

Is there a better argument for major health care reform than the situation HCMC and other big-city hospitals, including Regions in St. Paul, face? I wonder if the anti-health reform demonstrators at the August town hall meetings and Michele Bachmann’s recent Washington, D. C., rally are familiar with what’s going on with HCMC and its patients.

In our fragmented health care system, a governor can arbitrarily cut some 30,000 people from a state-sponsored health insurance system. The hospitals that serve those and other poor people cannot afford to continue to treat many of them. Many still will end up at emergency rooms, where it costs much more to provide treatment than it does in a clinic or doctor’s office, and they often show up with more advanced symptoms.

Isn’t there a moral imperative in this country and in this state to insure as many people as possible? Is it right to leave millions of people nationally without access to medical care? Does it make financial sense to force people to use the emergency room as the local clinic? And should we put some of our best and more caring hospitals and medical personnel in the position of having to turn away patients?

As the U.S. Senate begins to debate its version of health care reform, I hope the Senators, especially those on the fence, consider not just the details and nuances of the bill, but the real-life medical drama that is playing out at Hennepin County Medical Center and hundreds of other front-line hospitals across the country. I hope the image in their mind is that of uninsured poor people being turned away from medical care and not the ranting of the Bachmann demonstrators.

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