Minnesota, once a national health care leader, now has at least 374,000 residents, including 77,000 children, without coverage. Thousands more are underinsured, including a staggering 240,000 residents who spend more than 25 percent of income on medical costs. No part of the state is immune, with uninsured rates ranging from almost 7 percent in the metro area to 12 percent in the north-central region.
Ominously, these numbers were compiled before the past year’s economic decline, which has resulted in 31,000 Minnesotans losing their jobs and often their savings and health coverage as well.
That’s why, today, the members of the "Make Health Happen" campaign will join state lawmakers and others in urging state leaders to enact the Minnesota Health Security Act, or MHSA. The measure would lead to comprehensive, affordable health care for every Minnesotan, starting with children. It replaces the current costly and overburdened system with one that saves money, creates efficiencies, emphasizes preventive care, and restores security to families, businesses and governments hard hit by runaway health costs.
We have no illusions that fundamentally reforming our broken health care system will be easy. But the real economic risk is in not taking bold action to create a new system that ensures access, affordability, simplicity and efficiency. As costs skyrocket, the number of uninsured and underinsured also increases. In turn, more people use costly emergency rooms and go without cost-effective preventive care.
Children with coverage get important checkups and immunizations, do better in school, have fewer long-term health problems, commit fewer crimes later on and are more productive members of the future workforce. The long-term savings of insuring them are enormous.
For adults, it’s not only about health, but also about economic security for their families. Half of all home foreclosures are due in part to a high medical bill, according to a recent study of the housing market, and unpaid medical bills are the country’s leading cause of personal bankruptcy.
Businesses are crippled by the rising cost of employee coverage, a significant reason taxpayers are spending billions to bail out the auto industry. Each year more and more employers are forced to drop health benefits altogether because of the double-digit cost increases.
The MHSA is based on the Children’s Health Security Act, which successfully passed the state House of Representatives in 2007 but did not become law. It provides affordable, guaranteed health care coverage for all Minnesota children by July 2010, and it includes provisions to ensure that all Minnesotans have access to affordable health coverage in the coming years.
The coverage is voluntary. It emphasizes preventing illnesses before they occur and eliminating the administrative barriers that now stop Minnesotans from getting coverage and the care they need.
The economic downturn has more fully exposed the deep flaws in our current system’s ability to ensure that all Minnesotans are healthy. Now we need leaders and citizens alike to help us harness the current momentum for change.Jim Koppel is director of Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, one of the partners in the Make Health Happen campaign.