We shouldn't be surprised it has come to this: a hugely profitable health insurance company is threatening to, and perhaps will, withhold payment for emergency room visits ("UnitedHealthcare balking at ER bills," front page, June 10, and "UnitedHealthcare delaying policy to stop paying for 'non-emergency' care in ERs," June 11). I just hope the well-paid executives of UnitedHealthcare are aware of the full price their greedy initiative may exact.
Fifteen years ago, my then-45-year-old husband, Robert, was suffering from the worst headache and neck ache of his life. Indoctrinated by his insurer to choose urgent care over the emergency room, he dutifully presented himself at just a clinic and was quickly sent home by a scornful doctor who accused him of seeking painkillers and unnecessary scans.
The next weekend the blood clot that had formed on his dissected carotid artery flew to Rob's brain, nearly killing him. Since then he has never regained the use of his right arm and hand, he has never worked as an architect again, and he has struggled daily to talk — even to his own family. If he had been seen at an ER, Rob's life could have been very different.
United executives say they are simply concerned about escalating health care costs. If that's truly their goal, perhaps they should first cut their own sky-high compensation (and corporate profits) before risking the lives of the people they purport to serve.
Lynette Lamb, Minneapolis
In 2020, as the pandemic was gaining momentum, UnitedHealthcare saw its profits balloon by over $6 billion because fewer people were seeking elective surgery and filing health insurance claims. And its former CEO earned more than $40 million in compensation during his final year at the company's helm.
Now comes the news that United is seeking to enhance its bottom line even further by potentially limiting coverage for emergency room care. This Minnesota company is not just another profit-seeking enterprise. In large part, its profits come from the company's role as a middleman for publicly funded health insurance programs including Medicare and Medicaid. In effect, UnitedHealthcare executives and shareholders are enriching themselves with U.S. tax dollars.
This country may not be ready to abolish for-profit health insurance, but policymakers can and should reign in companies like UnitedHealthcare that benefit from their role as public agents with apparent disregard for the responsibilities that come with the role. That process could start by requiring boards of directors for companies administering public health insurance programs to include public members.
Iric Nathanson, Minneapolis
On Thursday morning, I read the front-page banner headline "UnitedHealthcare balking at ER bills." Turning to page A6, I read that the U.S. "saw remarkable increases in the death rates for heart disease, diabetes and some other common killers in 2020," due to reluctance to go to the hospital during the pandemic. Just this frustrating week, my wife has lost about a dozen hours over the phone attempting to order supplies for Type 1 diabetes she has managed for over four decades without complications. There are now six different bureaucratic gatekeepers for her to receive supplies necessary for her survival, complications that could also easily result in a totally unnecessary hospitalization. We are lucky in that it isn't even a question of money or lack of insurance.
Let's remember that for-profit health insurance only became legal in Minnesota in recent years. Let's point out that these companies continue to make money by limiting access to health care. Let's acknowledge that the U.S. ranks low in the developed world for health care outcomes.
Let's be honest and call these companies what they are: merchants of death, vultures who have found a way to monetize our mortality and suffering. We really need single-payer!
Charles Underwood, Minneapolis
Without solid management, more funding helps no one
Regarding the twin essays on the funding needs of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, to increase youth programming and to reduce racial disparities in access to parks ("What a commitment to parks will require" and "Fresh data show the disparity in access," Opinion Exchange, June 7):
Facing the historical wrongs of redlining and other barriers to homeownership in communities of color is a necessary reckoning for Minneapolis to thrive in the 21st century — and that will require money too. Where I differ is the suggestion that the Park Board is in a position to handle an influx of cash were the federal Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act to be passed out of Congress, as the author of "Fresh data show the disparity in access" argues.
I admire the work of the Trust for Public Land and its lobbying on the aforementioned measure, but Minneapolis' current Park Board is a reactionary body that, due to absenteeism and procedural shenanigans, has failed to move forward on existing infrastructure work that is sorely overdue (Hiawatha Golf Course, anyone?). How can the current board prioritize a pot of cash if it can't be counted on to deliver the projects that have long been promised to city residents?
Similarly, there is need for recreational programming for kids and teens in our city. I've seen the numbers, and funding for youth services has stayed essentially flat since the recession in 2008. The 2019 "Closing the Gap: Investing in Youth" report does a good job of highlighting the decline in services. What's missing is an action plan for bringing recreation programs back to prior levels.
I applaud my fellow Park Board candidate Barb Schlaefer and the Trust for Public Land's Susan Schmidt for calling attention to these park needs in their commentaries, but money isn't magic — it can't make a dysfunctional organization run more efficiently. In my experience working in the public sector, the opposite is usually true.
As a civil engineer, I know that structural change is impossible without structure. Not to go all inside baseball, but there's a reason why when government provides a stimulus or other windfall, a requirement to accept those funds is that the recipient is "shovel ready." Our current Park Board needs to get its own house in order so we can get serious about a path forward for our city's residents, especially its children.
Cathy Abene, Minneapolis
The writer is running for the Sixth District seat on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
Lakes can't move, but people can
I take issue with David C. Smith's assertion that the Trust for Public Land's interest in park equity is irrelevant or based on misleading statistics ("We're No. 3! But the ParkScore Index misleads," Opinion Exchange, June 10). St. Paul and Minneapolis parks systems are the envy of most communities around the country, blessed with progressive thinking that designated much parkland early in their histories as well as natural assets such as beautiful lakes that make these systems distinct. But the focus on slipping from the top spot in the rankings and arguing about limitations of the model that disfavor these cities misses the important finding of the study: that there are real disparities between neighborhoods based on race and income. Smith argues that the distribution of lakes are an artifact of nature that can't be shifted in response to changing demographics. While this is true, it ignores the systemic land use decisions and policies which historically prevented poor communities of color from locating anywhere near such assets.
Instead of dismissing the study as irrelevant, the cities would be better served reflecting on the processes that have shaped the patterns of park distribution and implementing ways to dismantle the historic systems that have given rise to disparity. Maybe lakes can't shift in response to demographics, but demographics can shift in response to policy and opportunity.
Kyle D. Brown, Pomona, Calif.
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