In addressing budget,

don't forget the needy

In these tough times, the need to prioritize spending of tax dollars is more urgent than ever, and government programs that no longer are or never were effective must be eliminated. At the same time, we must fund programs that have been shown to be cost-effective.

That's why I am heartened by efforts of business, the faith community, philanthropic and government leaders to address chronic homelessness through programs involving supportive services. A recent example is in Minneapolis, where Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness and the Downtown Council have raised funds to hire case workers to work with 150 chronically homeless.

We know that many of the chronically homeless, a quarter of them veterans, have mental health issues and cycle through the system over and over again using expensive police services, emergency rooms and detox centers. Housing the homeless and providing supportive services is not only cheaper, but produces better educational outcomes for children and improves public safety and the livability of our communities.

As we address chronic homelessness, we must also help those whose experience with homelessness is brief. Here a small subsidy can mean the difference between staying housed or being evicted. That's why we must also fund the Housing Trust Fund and reinstate General Assistance Medical Care.



If lawmakers could spend time with me treating patients, maybe they would put aside ideological differences and find a way to move forward with health care reform.

When I visit my hospitalized patients, I find that many of them are there because of the long-term effects of chronic conditions and unhealthy lifestyles. At my office, I see patients with different types of health coverage -- some have private insurance, while others have Medicare or Medicaid -- but one thing they have in common is that they all are worried. Not just worried about the spot on their back, or the cough that won't stop, or the pain in their hip; but they are also worried about the cost of their prescriptions, the fragility of their employment, and the prospect of losing their insurance coverage.

The Minnesota Medical Association has been promoting its ideas for reform since 2005. Several of the elements of our plan -- labeled as both too liberal and too conservative when it was completed -- are included in the bills currently before Congress.

As the president and congressional leaders convene today to explore the next path for federal health care reform, I urge them to act. Act to reduce insurance industry abuses, act to ensure coverage for all, act to improve the affordability of care, act to promote healthy behaviors and choices, and act to ease the worry among the patients I see every day. Action may not be easy, but failure should not be an option.




Is House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, for or against providing a medical safety net for our sickest and poorest adults as provided by the General Assistance Medical Care? Is he concerned about how health providers, especially hospitals, will cope with the certain financial fallout from uncompensated costs if GAMC is allowed to expire at the end of next month?

Last week, Zellers voted to extend GAMC for 16 months, citing the bill "a great step forward" as it overwhelmingly passed both houses (Star Tribune, Feb. 19).

Then, on the same day, after Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the bill, Zellers promised to allow the veto to stand "no matter what the issue." He blamed his flip-flop on a procedural issue while offering no new ideas on how to effectively care for GAMC recipients more efficiently. It appears he is putting politics before policy.



Why not let visitors help balance budget?

An airline casino in the areas restricted to ticketed passengers should disarm arguments by the Native American gambling interests and those opposed to increased exposure of Minnesotans to gambling. No current or would-be gamblers are going to buy an airline ticket just to gamble. A good example is the casino in the Amsterdam airport. Most of the gamblers wouldn't even be from Minnesota. Non-Minnesotans would help balance our budget.


reconsider polymet

EPA review should trouble its supporters

The Star Tribune Editorial Board owes an apology to those of us who read the environmental impact study for the PolyMet mine project and raised serious questions.

The Feb. 14 editorial described those concerns as delay tactics and called for quick action on PolyMet's permit application. But the recent report by the EPA that gave the PolyMet DEIS the lowest-possible rating and more than 25 pages of detailed concerns illustrates that there are major problems associated with nonferrous mining in northeast Minnesota.

I have e-mailed and talked to my state legislators, as well as U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar and Sens. Amy Klobucher and Al Franken, and I am not satisfied with their responses. Instead, they're taking stands that reflect their readings of the political winds. Now that the experts at the EPA have weighed in, I hope that my elected officials and the Editorial Board will rethink their positions.