In politics, as in much of life, it is common to have to decide between what is right and what is easy. Usually the just and morally preferable option is also the difficult and expensive one, and the unjust and damaging option is cheap and easy. This of course leads to heavy wrangling, fretting, compromise, and confusion when attempting to pass legislation, as lawmakers have to deal with conflicting factors in trying to do what is right for people and trying to remain sensible with budgeting, particularly during hard economic times when people are especially vulnerable to harm from unjust policies while at the same time less able to fund better ones.
Thankfully, there are occasionally exceptions to that pattern. Once in a while, an issue will crop up where the righteous course of action is also serendipitously the easy and affordable one. In these cases, the usual worrying and bickering shouldn’t be necessary, as all needs are already met. Such a situation exists today, and thankfully a handful of legislators recognize it.
Yesterday, a bill was introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate to address the state’s looming budget deficit. A bill was introduced to give kids an equal footing and make sure they are healthy and able to learn when they go to school. A bill was introduced to allow small businesses to more easily create jobs and help our economy recover. A bill was introduced to give employees the freedom to choose their employer based on a full range of merits, not being unable to leave their current job. A bill was introduced to bring Minnesotans’ quality of life, life expectancy, and infant mortality metrics on par with the rest of the developed world. A bill was introduced to improve oversight of how taxpayer dollars are spent and make sure that spending is efficient and responsible. A bill was introduced to ensure that loss of a job no longer results in destruction of people and families, but remains only the loss of a job. A bill was introduced to allow personal health care decisions to be made between a patient and their doctor, without outside interference. A bill was introduced to ensure that no Minnesota is allowed to die needlessly of preventable causes. A bill was introduced to dramatically reduce personal bankruptcies. A bill was introduced to declare that in Minnesota, it will no longer be acceptable to care for 95%, 98%, or even 99% of our citizens, but that we will care for all of the people in the state.
These were all the same bill.
Senators Marty, Torres Ray, Lourey, Scheid, and Bakk, and Representatives Hayden, Greiling, Scalze, Murphy (M), Laine, Paymar, Ward, Hausman, Murphy (E), Liebling, Moran, and Greene introduced a bill to establish the Minnesota Health Plan, a single, statewide health insurance plan that would cover all Minnesotans for all of their medical needs, as Senate File 8 and House File 51, respectively. The plan would work by providing a single-payer style system to cover all medical costs for all Minnesota residents, drastically reducing the expenses associated with health care by simplifying administration, expanding consumer choice by separating doctors and hospitals from insurance plans, such that nobody has to worry about who is in their “network”, and detaching medical coverage from employment. The bill is simple – a mere eighteen pages. Compare that to the over two thousand pages of the recent health care reform passed by Congress that still does not cover everybody. You can (and should) read the entire thing in a few minutes. You will find the Senate version at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin… and the House version at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bin… . More about the Plan can be found on http://mnhealthplan.org/faq.html .
On the one hand there is the moral component to this bill. As the country with the largest economy in the world (and in the top ten by per-capita terms), home to vast amounts of scientific and medical research and advancement, self-proclaimed example to the world in equality and opportunity, and one of the most religious nations of the Western democracies, it is downright shameful that we still allow people to live with and die from treatable illnesses simply because they can not afford care. As the home to multiple companies at the forefront of medical device research and production such as Medtronic, St. Jude Medical, Boston Scientific, and 3M, and leaders in world-class care such as the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, the irony is particularly strong here in Minnesota. Over sixty years ago while working to address the social problems that led to and were exposed by the Second World War, the world declared that everyone has a right to health care, in Section 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sadly, the United States chose to use a sort of line-item veto to ignore that particular section while signing the rest of the document. A few years later, a Baptist minister led the charge for universal health care in Canada while another Baptist minister worked on other civil rights on our side of the border. The latter, Martin Luther King Jr., said of the former issue, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Now, over forty years after King’s death and the nationwide adoption of universal health care in Canada, Canadians have voted Tommy Douglas, the father of their single-payer health care system, as the “Greatest Canadian” of all time, while here in the United States we continue to have the shocking and inhumane conditions decried by King. Clearly a change is long overdue.
On the other hand is the economic component. The state of Minnesota currently faces a $6.2 billion budget deficit which needs to be addressed by the legislature this year. With that kind of a shortfall, any sort of cost savings should come as a most welcome revelation. While Douglas primarily pursued his health care plan due to personal and moral drive, in the five decades since it was first implemented on a provincial level we have discovered that it brings tremendous cost savings as well, while providing higher quality of care. Even the most bitter opponents of such a plan in Minnesota acknowledge this fact, with a study run by UnitedHealth in Colorado finding the single-payer option to be the cheapest while providing the most comprehensive coverage of all the types of plans the government asked them to evaluate. In fact, if you consider the difference between what is spent per-capita on health care here in the United States each year ($5,711) and per-capita spending in Canada ($2,998), multiplied by the recent census figures putting the population of Minnesota at 5,303,925, thats a potential cost savings of $14,389,548,525. Yes, you read that right – $14.3 billion dollars per year. That’s not just a few extra dollars. That’s enough to single-handedly fix the state budget deficit, with plenty of money to spare. Twice. While in the case of the Congressional health reform bill the question was “Can we afford it?”, the question here is “How can we afford not to?”. The answer is clear – we can’t. We can’t continue to spend twice as much as other countries on health care. We need to put that money back in people’s pockets, back into small businesses to create jobs, back into our infrastructure to prevent further disasters, back into technology to make us competitive and sustainable in years to come.
In Canada, universal health care was implemented as the result of efforts of all three major federal political parties. Tommy Douglas of the NDP first deployed it provincially in his home province of Saskatchewan. John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister from the Progressive Conservative party, appointed a commission on health services that led to a recommendation of nationwide adoption of Saskatchewan’s model. Soon afterwards control of Parliament changed hands, and Lester Pearson’s Liberal government implemented that recommendation. If even so much as half of the newly sworn-in legislators in St. Paul care a third as much about reducing the deficit, creating jobs, and restoring our economy as they claim to, we should see easy bipartisan passage of the bill in this session. Whether that is actually the case is of course debatable, but we can not afford the status quo. If your legislators are not yet on board supporting the Minnesota Health Plan, please contact them today to explain why we need them to. Our state’s people can not afford to have this put off any longer. Our state’s budget can not afford to have this delayed another session. We have for once a golden opportunity to do both what is right and what is financially advantageous in the same motion – let us finally take it.