ST. PAUL - Health-care reform due to come out of Washington this year looks a lot like what is happening in Minnesota, the state House health leader says.
But Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, Thursday said he will watch Congress carefully as it tries to craft a health-care measure that has eluded federal policymakers for decades.
In particular, Huntley wants to make sure federal legislation is flexible enough that Minnesota may continue with its own reforms. The chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee said he worries about "a rigid national plan."
He also will keep track of how the Medicare system is handled. He told of one flaw in the current system, which pays a doctor four times as much to fit a patient with a stent to keep blood vessels open he would be paid to prevent a patient from needing such surgery.
A day after he attended a White House health-care conference with other state legislators, Huntley said he is confident President Barack Obama will be successful in passing reform this year.
"President Obama is dedicated to making this happen and getting it done this year," Huntley said.
It appears major health-care changes will include requirements that every American is insured and create a government health plan as an option to private insurance. Among issues that could be included by Congress is a provision prohibiting penalizing people who have a medical condition. Huntley said that a diabetic, for example, would pay the same for insurance as anyone else.
Huntley said that regardless of what else happens, he expects Americans to be able to continue their existing insurance. But a some kind of a federal plan also may be available.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said that she and Huntley already have asked the Obama administration to make any changes flexible.
Kelliher said that would allow states to work with others in their region for better health care. She praised Gov. Tim Pawlenty for working with other Midwestern states on environmental issues, using that as an example of how Upper Midwestern states could work together on health issues.
The Upper Midwest should be in good shape during the health-care reform debate, Huntley said.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., "is going to be one of the big movers," Huntley said. And Dorgan's fellow North Dakotan, Sen. Kent Conrad, is Senate Finance Committee chairman, who also will have considerable say.
"We have a chance to enact legislation that does not punish the Upper Midwest," Huntley said.
Huntley said that St. Mary's Duluth Clinic Health System officials, for instance, are concerned that lack of flexibility could threaten their rural clinics.
St. Mary's and most other Minnesota clinics bring together several doctors in efficient operations, Huntley said. In much of the country, doctors often work in less efficient solo practices, he added.
The health chairman said Minnesota health care is some of the best in the country, but providers often are penalized for dong good work. He said that workers serving people nearing death in Miami are paid three times more than those in Minneapolis.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.