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Health care reform: A Minnesota perspective

Throughout my service in Congress, paying for health care has been the most recurrent theme and deepest concern to the greatest number of 8th District residents, with the possible exception of keeping or finding a job.

The most dire fear of people in the workforce is losing their health insurance. The most vexing issue for policymakers is to contain costs and ensure access to care for our fellow citizens that is affordable at the individual, employer and national level.

Today's debate over these issues is but another chapter in our long public policy conversation about health care regarding its availability and affordability. The House and Senate are considering versions of policy options to deal with these vexing issues. My careful evaluation of the House bill raises issues for me as it has for a wide cross-section of 8th District residents:

I greatly appreciate the significant input that I have received, and I want to extend an invitation for everyone in the 8th Congressional District to share your views with me. I want to make sure that every voice is heard on health care, and I encourage you to visit my Web site: to tell me what you think.

This year, I have learned from my many conversations with constituents in Minnesota and Washington regarding health care reform. In particular, I have received very substantive input this week from my meetings with the small business community, health care providers, seniors and the faith community. I have also been reviewing the numerous e-mail and phone messages regarding your concerns and priorities on this critical issue.

In a meeting with Minnesota hospital administrators last week, I learned that Minnesota hospitals receive, on average, $2,000 less per Medicare beneficiary discharge, and without payment reform, some Minnesota. hospitals could close within three years. It is imperative that we correct the longstanding disparity in Medicare reimbursement for Minnesota health care providers.

In addition, there are many rural health care priorities that the National Rural Health Care Association has identified, including improvements in the Critical Access Hospital program and rural health clinics that need to be included in the House bill. There are a great number of additional issues that need to be clarified, but I want to be clear that without additional improvements, I will not support the House health care bill. (H.R. 3200).

It is important to note that there have been many changes to H.R. 3200 since its introduction, and I am pleased to report that many of the concerns that constituents have expressed have been addressed. Congressional committees approved amendments to prohibit health care benefits for illegal immigrants, to ban the use of comparative effectiveness research to ration health care, and to clarify that the legislation would not encourage euthanasia.

I am dismayed, however, that some constituent messages are based on inaccurate information. To have a serious and necessary conversation on health care reform, we must deal with the facts, not fiction. I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the opponents of health care reform have gone to great lengths to distort this legislation. Please review on my website some of the most frequent questions and answers that dispel many of the myths regarding H.R. 3200.

Thanks to those who have already made important contributions to the health care debate, and I look forward to gaining additional insights from you as we move forward on this important issue.

Jim Oberstar, DFL-8th District, is a member of the U.S. House.