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Third option to health care cuts: Reform

Not long ago, five of Minnesota's largest foundations partnered with Public Strategies Group, a Minnesota company nationally recognized for developing creative solu-tions to public problems, to compile a collection of ideas that offer promise for Minnesota's future.

Its nine-pronged solution that would improve Minnesota government could be whittled down to one simple idea: Fundamental reform.

Time and again, PSG cited ways to improve programs, like special education, long-term care, Medical Assistance and housing; while spending less. The report begs for Minnesota to fundamentally change how it does business at a time when business as usual continues to deliver billion-dollar budget deficits and little value for the taxpayers.

Far too often, the move toward reform is met with severe resistance by long-term lawmakers or entrenched bureaucrats who are fundamentally opposed to any change. Amid cries of "cut," they tell us about how things have always been done and how that framework needs to be followed, as opposed to what we should be doing to improve our state to succeed into the future.

Case in point: The health care proposal that eliminates Minnesota's fiscally irresponsible General Assistance Medical Care program, which had been growing at the unsustainable rate of 30 percent every two years and did not serve either the people within the program or the taxpayers who funded it very well.

After Gov. Pawlenty vetoed a plan to replace GAMC because the new legislation remained far too costly in his opinion, House Democrats attempted a veto override.

As evidenced by various letters to the editor statewide, the partisan scare tactics were dialed up a notch. In fact, House Democratic Majority Leader Tony Sertich told Republicans that we had two options: Vote for the override, or throw poor people on the streets. He made it very clear to us on the House floor that there would be no third option, and insinuated that this was our only shot to replace the program. He could not have been farther from the truth.

Despite the partisan hyperbole, just four days after the veto was sustained Republican and Democrat lawmakers announced a new compromise solution -- a "third option" -- that falls right in line with the reforms being championed by PSG, area foundations and legislators who have been pushing the need for fundamental reform for years.

The bipartisan compromise -- a new system creating hospital-based partnerships with county agencies called coordinated care organizations -- will save the taxpayers $719 million in comparison to the previous program. It will also prevent $19 million in cuts to county mental health, child protection and case management that had previously been targeted. And most importantly, it gives Minnesota's low-income residents the help they need.

These negotiations proved that the third option, as usual, remains the best choice of all. By not settling for the status quo, we were able to reform and improve the system for all Minnesotans; focus on people, not the program; and identify significant savings while making your tax dollars work better.

At a time when many residents are being forced to pay their mounting bills with reduced incomes, they should demand their government find better ways to meet similar challenges. Despite the rhetoric you may hear, delivering state government does not have to be fiscally inefficient.

Reforming government is non-partisan. The GAMC replacement compromise proves what the PSG report suggests all along: The third option exists. And often, the third option is actually better than any typical political response because it is a thoughtful response built on substance, not talking points.

When lawmakers choose to find new options, we can improve the efficiency of many long standing government programs while spending fewer of your tax dollars. We need to move the reform agenda from talk to action in order to move toward the goal of ensuring that government works better for the people who use and fund it. Citizens should expect nothing less.

Laura Brod, R-New Prague, is a member of the Minnesota Senate who serves on several health and human services panels.