Tuesday, September 12, 2006

An Open Letter to Congressman Gutknecht

Thank you for your eline concerning health care. In it you state : “My concern is that my friends on the left are offering a false choice. They are saying we can either continue the status quo which is costing too much and leaving too many uninsured, or move to a government-run, single payer system. There are other alternatives that should be explored.”

Now, your staff may have been busy checking out driving records in Dawes County Nebraska, so they may have missed some recent news.
- Trust for America's Health issued their annual report on Tuesday, August 29th that 31 states had a greater percentage of their residents classified as obese in this year's report than last year's. Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease and stroke, ultimately costing the country $117 billion a year in medical costs and lost worker productivity.
- Twenty million Americans have diabetes, and an estimated seven million of those are undiagnosed. Another 41 million have pre-diabetes, two million of which are teenagers. The vast majority of this latter group has no idea they are in the formative stages of the disease, which is why diabetes has been called the silent epidemic. Worldwide, the International Disease Federation estimates 195 million people have diabetes, a figure expected to reach 330 million by 2025 -- only 20 years away.
- Harvard University released a report on September 11th, that in Nicollet County, the average life expectancy in 1999, the most recent data available, was 81.1 years -- a year longer than the average Minnesotan and more than four years longer than the national average. Among the top 100 counties in the United States, 21 are in Minnesota.

The jest is that America is facing a crisis and cannot live with the status quo.

Former Republican Senator David Durenberger and the Minnesota Citizens Forum on Health Care Costs identified a number of steps to reduce the costs of care. A main point was access – not just for the uninsured, but to achieve universal participation.
Other points that they addressed included :
With as much as 40% of our health care dollars being spent on paperwork and administration, the health care industry needs uniform standards for electronic billing, electronic medical records and reports.
Prevention instead of reactive medicine - patients save money by investing heavily in preventive medicine, an area in which the private sector — which makes money by treating the sick, not by keeping people healthy.

Besides Durenberger’s ideas, Tim Pawlenty, the Republican governor of Minnesota, called for a moratorium on prescription drug advertising.

Clearly these are Republicans that understand the status quo is not serving us and that significant changes are needed. Your alternatives do not address the problems cited by your fellow Republicans. In fact, they do not offer “false choices” or the “status quo”, but identify real problems and solutions.

My concern is that your voting record indicates that your solution to the “status quo” is to shift federal obligations onto the state. For example, you supported the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 which actually will reduce Medicare spending by $6.4 billion and Medicaid spending by $4.7 billion from 2006 to 2010.

Medicare changes. Savings will be realized by reductions in spending in hospital – especially small rural hospitals, home health, imaging services, and Part C programs.

Medicaid changes. Changes in the Medicaid program will limit payments for certain outpatient prescription drugs, change rules and penalties related to asset transfers, improve program integrity, increase cost sharing, and expand home- and community-based services for people receiving long-term care. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 13 million poor recipients would face new costs and 65,000 enrollees would lose Medicaid coverage altogether.

The Deficit Reduction Act was heavily debated. Pressure from the managed care and pharmaceutical industries persuaded conference negotiators to drop provisions that would have saved money from Medicaid and Medicare programs – and instead placed the burden on low-income beneficiaries. After the bill was passed by the Senate, it went back to the House for approval. Congressman Gutknecht, you as well as the other Minnesota Congressmen, were alerted that this bill would have unfair consequences to Minnesota. Congressman Gutknecht, you met with county officials, announced that you “understood the problem” … and then voted for the cuts. Fellow, Republican Jim Ramstad, changed his vote.

Durenberger's report has some glaring concerns. The cost of health insurance has grown over four times faster than the rate of inflation. The average Minnesota household pays $11,000 per year for health care in taxes, premiums, and out of pocket costs for themselves and others. Most Minnesota households pay less than a third of the cost of health care directly out of their own pockets. The rest is paid by employers and government in ways that are hidden from view. Businesses are being hit hard by the increasing health care costs. As health care costs continue to grow, employers have less money to spend on wage increase and other benefits for employees.

Kevin Paap, a farm operator near Garden City and president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau recently said "We in agriculture feel the rise in health care costs as much or more than anyone else. We're responsible for our own [health insurance], and most farmers pay more for medical insurance than the family food budget."

Your alternatives do not address the rising costs.
So, despite the fact that we have an aging population with more enrollees and higher costs, Congress is just cutting federal programs and leaving it to the states to handle the problems.

Additionally, a provision of the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act calls for nearly 1.5 million seniors to face premium hikes ranging from 10 to 55 percent over the next three years.

This is not leadership .. this is not compassionate conservatism … this is wishful thinking … this is ignoring our citizens needs and promises that have been made.

I contend that it is your false choices that are the barrier to important reforms. Citizens of the First District are ready for a change. Ignoring the challenge with misguided, recycled alternatives are not the addressing the growing problem. Delay is no longer an option.

Now that I have your attention, I will offer my proposal tomorrow ... and it's one that is based on a funding proposal that you are quite familiar with.

The Citizens of the First District

Please read http://www.mncitizensforum.org/Meeting%20materials/CFHC%20Final%20Report.pdf

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