Clip files / Local news from the states

This column features selected short items about state health care policy.

Health insurance for all Minnesotans by 2011?

MINNEAPOLIS—A coalition of doctors, legislators, and consumer groups have proposed a sweeping universal health care system that would require all Minnesotans to have insurance and provide subsidies for those who couldn't afford it. The proposal sets a 2011 goal for mandating universal insurance. An estimated 380,000 Minnesotans—about 7%—are currently uninsured. By mandating insurance for everyone, the proposal resembles a plan by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican candidate for president, and goes well beyond proposals from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislators for increased coverage. Pawlenty as well as some senators scaled back their proposals to cover all of the state's estimated 70,000 uninsured children.

The new bipartisan plan aims at insuring all adults as well as children.

But some business and labor organizations, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota Nurses Association, complained that the proposal requires insurance without containing costs that make health care unaffordable for many people.

The bill would require employers to report uninsured employees to the Revenue Department and collect a portion of their wages equal to insurance premiums as tax withholding. "This bill … puts an incredible burden on businesses to report their own employees in Big-Brother fashion," said Eileen Weber, program coordinator for the Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition. Supporters say the mandate would be mitigated by a sliding fee schedule that would set premiums according to a person's ability to pay.

Those unable to pay the full costs would receive a tax credit, enrollment in medical assistance programs or other subsidies. Julie Schnell, president of the Service Employees International Union in Minnesota, said she isn't convinced that the breaks would enable people to afford insurance. Proponents said that they had no good estimate on the cost of the program but that it could range from $300 million to $900 million a year. The proposal grew out of a task force of insurers and health care providers from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, HealthPartners, Mayo Clinic, and elsewhere.

— Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 3/8/07