Finally, some facts in the health care debate

Kudos to the Star Tribune for a breath of fresh air on the health care subject. Bill George's Minnesota Voices column ("Time to transform state's health care,'' March 7) contained facts and ideas, unlike the scores of editorials, letters and articles over the last several years that often only spout vague generalities, political talking points and many times outright falsehoods about health care.

Two of his points are worth repeating: More than 50 percent of health care costs can be attributed to people not taking care of themselves, and 75 percent relate to managing the consequences of chronic health problems. I have talked to many health care professionals frustrated by patients with chronic problems who do not follow through with the guidance provided to them. The inevitable result is yet another hospitalization or health crisis, and costs that could be prevented drive our insurance costs higher and higher.

The other important fact is that the bills now being considered in Congress address access to insurance but not costs. In fact, costs would increase. We need more ideas and intelligence brought to this issue.


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Bill George's column states that every American should have access to health insurance, but that several key elements are missing from the reform discussion, including cost, quality and personal responsibility. His observation that incentives in the reimbursement system drive up the use of unnecessary tests is accurate. Recently, I experienced this firsthand. My doctor insisted that I have several tests done, but looking back, only one was truly necessary. However, we want to trust our doctors, never challenging what they say. So not only should everyone be personally responsible, our system of reimbursement needs to be changed. Doctors should not be reimbursed based on the number of tests they order for a patient, but rather for patient outcomes.

The proposed idea of moving away from primary and specialty care is one that should be closely considered. Having a personal care team with doctors, nurses, therapists and the like is brilliant. But George failed to address how the costs of this type of care would be covered. He proposes that payment for services would be based on ability to pay and that those who could not afford care would be given government aid. How is that different from today's system?


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In his Minnesota Voices column ("What about when there's no disaster?,'' March 7), J. Brian Atwood, having observed the outpouring of voluntary aid to Haiti and Chile, asks an intriguing question: "Why is it so difficult in normal times to convince Americans to help others to help themselves?" Atwood does hint at a one-word answer, without actually using the word. It's "drama." Notice the novels we read. Observe what kind of film won the Academy Award. Notice the popularity of TV shows and stories that highlight disasters such as kidnappings, murders and accidents. Drama educates, distracts and even comforts us. We think: "Things could be worse. At least I'm not that bad off." Those thoughts can create a sense of guilt that we ease by helping whenever we can.



Taxpayers are getting a good return from MPR

Last week, the Star Tribune reprinted an editorial from the St. Cloud Times that would lead one to believe the paper does not count Minnesota Public Radio's the Current among its favorite radio stations ("Legacy Amendment money is showing up in some strange places,'' March 5). That's OK; contemporary music is not for everyone. People may prefer listening to choral music or news programming, or attending poetry readings or a live music performance. They could be history buffs.

All of these activities -- and more -- are made possible by money MPR has received through the Legacy Amendment. In addition to the Current -- which showcases the best in authentic new and local music -- Legacy funding supports our partnerships with the Schubert Club, the Cantus choral ensemble, the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Opera. It supports our artists-in-residence program so that the Parker Quartet can put on concerts and conduct educational workshops in greater Minnesota.

Legacy funding has helped create Minnesota Today, a new collaborative service that enables news, information and cultural coverage for the entire state and supports the creation of a comprehensive statewide cultural events calendar. It is also funding the creation of a digital audio archive of Minnesota history and new programs such as Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry contest for students. And much more. We're grateful to the Legislature for its confidence in our ability to use these precious dollars wisely, and we're proud of our Legacy Amendment projects. We believe Minnesota will be as well.


football IS NO. 1

Vikings stadium would serve state year-round

After reading Garrison Keillor's column ("A beautiful new stadium, publicly financed, at that,'' March 7) I have to ask: What's so wonderful about an open-air stadium that is publicly funded but will have no value to the community in the winter? At least the Metrodome has been used for other purposes, such as basketball tournaments, tractor pulls and many other events that generate money and tax revenue for the community.

A publicly supported football stadium with a retractable roof, partially funded by the Vikings, would be useful 12 months a year and generate revenue both in terms of spending in the community and in taxes derived from ticket sales. Let's move forward. Let's get that stadium for the most popular sport in the state of Minnesota.