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Health care reform defining issue of this generation

Thomas Paine wrote more than 200 years ago that new directions "raise at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom." In other words, whether people believe things could be better or not, they almost always resist change.

This was true when Social Security was passed in 1935 and with Medicare in 1965. It remains true today. While a commanding majority of Americans agree that our current health care system is broken and should be fixed, they seem to be paralyzed by fear, or even worse, partisan politics. Why is it so difficult for Americans to come together around a good idea?

Fear plays a prominent role for many. From cries of "death panels" to government take-over, attacks that are not based in reality are stirring the pot. Seniors are being told their Medicare will be cut when, in fact, their coverage will be improved and less costly. Cries of loss of freedom resonate around the public option, yet we can see right in here Minnesota the effectiveness and value of our own public option -- MinnesotaCare. It's simply another choice, not a mandate or requirement.

There is also confusion, rightly so, about the details included in the bill. Health care is a complex and expansive issue that will not be easily reformed. When you look beyond the headlines, however, you find both meaningful reform and substantive improvements.

For example, as business owners understand all too well, the high cost of providing insurance to their employees is a barrier not only to profitability, but to growth and new businesses. The insurance exchange will make it possible to buy into competitively priced plans, and the cost-containment measures will begin to rein in skyrocketing premium costs.

Imagine the freedom and security in knowing that even if you lose your job, or choose to try a new venture, you could keep your current health insurance at an affordable price. Or, that once diagnosed with an illness, you could not be denied coverage under a new plan.

Imagine the peace that would come with the understanding that no matter what life throws at you, you can provide health care for your family.

Health care reform will also create a more stable economy. Over 50 percent of bankruptcies are linked to medical costs; families will no longer lose their homes or everything they own because they are sick and unable to pay the high cost of out-of-pocket expenses. Lower benefit costs will help schools afford more teachers, and allow nursing homes to pay their staff a better wage. Changes such as these benefit us all.

Minnesota is a national leader in providing high quality health care at a lower cost. We worked hard to make sure new legislation would set a floor, not a ceiling, for health care reform. Pilot projects in both the House and Senate will allow our state to continue to improve while the rest of the nation catches up.

There are moments in time that define every generation; health care reform is ours. Minnesotans cannot afford to hold back out of fear or complacency. We can't wait another 15 years to reduce costs, protect coverage and improve prevention efforts against chronic diseases. And, just like generations have done before us, we must make every effort to leave this world a better place for our children and grandchildren.

Health care reform is the number one issue of our time, and we must keep moving forward.

Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, is a member of the Minnesota House and is chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee and serves as chairman of the Minnesota White House Working Group, a group of five legislators asked to provide input to the national health care package and to inform Minnesotans about how health care reform will affect their lives.