Sunday, March 28, 2010


Passage of the monumentous Health Care Reform bill this past week was a magnificent and long-overdue achievement. However, there is criticism from a number of circles that the bill doesn't yet do enough for enough of our population, and I agree. We can all celebrate President Obama's great legislative victory, but there is still a long, long way to go concerning the fixing of this very broken health care delivery system of ours.

Columnist Nick Coleman (no relation to Norm, I assure you) illustrates this perfectly in a brilliant column he posted in the OpEd section of today's Minneapolis Star Tribune. He tells a poignant personal story and also provides us with insight into some behind the scenes political health care maneuvering in Minnesota politics.

NICK COLEMAN, Minneapolis Star Tribune
March 27, 2010

After she was diagnosed with kidney cancer, my mother was given a prescription for a daily chemotherapy pill that has been shown to extend the lives of patients with that cancer. When I went to pick up the medicine, the pharmacist asked if I had received financial counseling. No, I said, wondering why we were talking finances, not health care. Just how much is this prescription?

I almost needed a doctor when she told me: The first 28 pills would cost my mother $4,607 -- a full 40 percent of her meager annual income from Social Security.

I ended up buying one week's worth -- seven pills -- giving me time to try to figure out how we could afford a month's supply of a medicine that is fully covered in England and France: Kidney cancer patients in those countries do not have to pay for the medicine my mom needed. Perhaps that's the kind of anti-American thing that Gov. Tim Pawlenty had in mind when he denounced the Obama administration's health care reform bill as a foreign measure built on a "European approach" -- you know, the funny idea that people shouldn't be bankrupted by their medical care.

My mother passed away before I had to go back to the pharmacy for more pills, dying days before the health care reform bill passed. But I doubt she would have been comforted to find out that the great reform effort would mean she would get a whopping $250 rebate on that $4,607 chemo bill, or that if she lived until 2020, the "donut hole" in her Medicare drug coverage would finally be eliminated.

If this is "reform," it is at a snail's pace, a mammoth effort to bring forth a mouse.

Give President Obama credit for getting the bill passed over the shouts of temper-tantrum Tea Partiers and their red-faced enablers in the GOP. But the final bill fell far short of what was first proposed, has gaping holes, leaves gluttonous insurance companies still in charge of health care (Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group posted a $3.8 billion profit last year) and doesn't even require insurance companies to insure adults with preexisting medical conditions until 2014. If they're still alive.

Still, passage of the national measure, as limited as it may be, gives us a glimmer of an idea of what real reform might one day look like. And one promising part of that picture might emerge in Minnesota, where the Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition (, an alliance of physicians, unions and reformers, is pushing for a single-payer system.

Minnesota could become the next Saskatchewan. And that would be good.

Saskatchewan was the first Canadian province to adopt a single-payer health care system, paving the way for Canada's universal Medicare system. The plan remains so popular that the man who led Saskatchewan's reform, Tommy Douglas, was voted greatest Canadian of all time in 2004 (Wayne Gretzky, the putative "Great One," finished 10th).

The hope of reformers here is that Minnesota can help blaze a path to universal health care in this country.

"We've lost sight of what we've been fighting for," says John Marty, a DFL state senator from Roseville who is chief author of legislation that would create something called the Minnesota Health Plan. Marty is running for governor on a strong health-care reform platform and criticizes DFLers who aren't fully committed to universal care. "If the country had approached slavery like we have approached health care," he says, "we'd still have slavery, but Democrats would be bragging that the slaves only work 40 hours a week now. We haven't fixed the problem. There will still be people dying from lack of health care, and going broke."

The Minnesota Health Plan would fully cover all Minnesotans with a single-payer system like Canada's. A similar plan has been approved by the California Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. More than a third of Minnesota's legislators support the proposed plan. If he is elected governor, Marty says, he will make the Legislature stay in St. Paul until the bill is passed.

Minnesota used to be proud to lead the nation. Maybe it should take the lead again.

The plan passed by Congress "is not nearly good enough," says Elizabeth Frost, a Minneapolis doctor who is one of the leaders of Physicians for a National Health Program and who says the biggest beneficiary of the plan is the health insurance industry. "There will be 32 million more people with health insurance, but the real question is whether the insurance will be any good. If you have to pay too much out of pocket, people don't go to the doctor. The fight for reform isn't over.

"Last Sunday wasn't the end. It was the beginning."

Nick Coleman is a senior fellow at the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy & Civic Engagement at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University.




Holte Ender said...

Good one Jack, I agree, this new bill is just the beginning.

Jack Jodell said...

Holte Ender,
Yep---we've gotta keep pushing for the real deal!

TRUTH 101 said...

I have to believe a single payer system would benefit any state. 3M and the other major companies in Minnesota would love to have the burden of employee health insurance lifted from them.

Health insurance cost was always a sticking point in every negotiation I was ever involved. The only way to make it cheaper was to do away with benefits. Both sides hated having to deal with it.

Alas, the big insurance providers and the monopolistic HMO's like the one in my town love the status quo.

I hope Minnesota gets this done soon Jack. My dad's family is from there and I have many relatives who would benefit immeasurably from this.

Max's Dad said...

Great column, Jack. I'm sure Nick Coleman is busy sifting through his obscene e-mails from the good christians as we speak. Single Payer is coming. Finally it's almost the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Jack Jodell said...

I hope Minnesota and all the other states as well gets this done too. It will be a hard fought battle, but in the end everyone will come out on top, except the greedy insurance companies and the HMOs, and to hell with them.
Max's Dad,
O yeah---Coleman gets a lot of hate mail. But the angrier all the teabagger types are, the happier and better off all the rest of us are. So to hell withj them, too!

Beach Bum said...

Often feeling like Jane Goodall studying her chimps I get a strong impression from the Teabaggers I'm around that the concept of financial ruin due to a family member falling catastrophically ill is something beyond their grasp. That does not stop them from complaining about rising health care premiums and benefits that do less each year but until such an event hits them in the pocket book they just don't give a damn about anyone else.

So excuse the insult to our primate cousins but the Teabagger behavior in this respect reminds me of an old National Geographic show in which chimp intelligence was tested by giving them a box with food inside, the trick was to flip and turn a partial hidden latch. Even after seeing the human trainer do it several times several of the chimps could never actually make the connection inside their heads to get the food.

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

I have put off going to three doctors,that my primary doctor wants me to go to.
The reason is the co-pay for each is $30.00,for some that's not a lot of money but for me it's hard to decide who I'll not pay in order to see these three doctors.

Jack Jodell said...

Beach Bum,
What an apt and hilarious analogy. It shows that Teabaggers just can't see or feel beyond the end of their own very short noses!
You raise two related thoughts here.

One, it disgusts me that, in this country, in this day and age, we have ANYBODY so strapped that they can't afford a $30 co-payment. (I know exactly how you feel: I'm about to begin my 16th straight month on unemployment and funds are extremely tight for me, too).

Two, it is an outrage that we still don't have universal, free health care for all of our citizens, something a war-ravaged Britain was able to accomplish only 2 years after WWII, back in 1947!

I hope your medical situation improves or stabilizes, my friend. There is no excuse for people like you to have to do without while billionaires with Bush tax cuts walk around with wallets stuffed with cash! :-(

amadmike1 said...

What an irony if Minnesota, the home of Michele Bachmann, led the nation in progressive reform.

Btw Jack, at the risk of being accused of shameless promotion I just put up a piece at my place that I think you will like.

TomCat said...

Jack I agree that this is just the beginning and we need to push on to single payer. Nevertheless, it's not as bad as Coleman made it out to be. Even without upcoming changes in the law, which will cut the donut hole in half, after $3,900 in the donut hole, 95% of all charges are covered.

BigmacInPittsburgh said...

Tomcat that part about the doughnut hole is true,but it doesn't take effect until 2014.

Jack Jodell said...

I would LOVE to see Bachmann get burned! And I'll be sure to stop over for a look!
TomCat and Bigmac,
Thanks for the info. That's good to know.

mud_rake said...

Here's what I don't get, Jack: the most recent poll of Americans shows that the majority is AGAINST this new Health Care Bill.

Where do these people live? In a cave? Or, as i suspect, their brains are spongeon and absorb the right-wing propaganda like a vacuum and it sticks there like those gummy substances that cause dementia.

I am not a doctor [though I play one on TV] but I'm beginning to suspect that this is brainwashing of the highest technical order- in that its endurance seems to be never-ending.

Jack Jodell said...

I am highly suspicious of that poll. I haven't seen its exact wording, so I don't know how it was phrased or presented to the respondents. But I remain highly suspicious, because NOBODY likes ever-rising unsurance rates, insurance company CEOs making 8 figure incomes while keeping people off their rolls and kicking others off because their treatment costs have gotten too high, or prescription prices going through the roof unchecked.

The Nazis perfected the art of propaganda. They told lies - whopping big ones - and repeated them so loudly and so often that their public eventually came to accept them as fact. Our insurance companies and the Republican Party are repeating that practice, with a disgusting level of success, and that is why so many people are hoodwinked on this issue. This may be the land of the free, but it is also the land of crooked liars with crooked, vested interests.

Stimpson said...

It made me happy, to read that Minnesota has a shot at going single-payer.

About Nick Coleman: It would be so cool if he *were* related to sack-of-shit Norm. Know what I mean?

Jack Jodell said...

I'm with ya, my friend, but Minnesota's still a long way off from a single-payer system. And I wouldn't wish Norm-baby on ANYONE'S family! :-)

Great hearing from you again, and I hope you'll be able to resume posting soon!