Commentary: Don't burden health care reform with new taxes
The Legislature convened this year amid optimism and hope for progress on containing health care costs -- and for good reason. There is bipartisan support among policy-makers for what kind of bold and innovative measures are necessary to creating...
The Legislature convened this year amid optimism and hope for progress on containing health care costs -- and for good reason. There is bipartisan support among policy-makers for what kind of bold and innovative measures are necessary to creating a functional health care system.
There is broad agreement among stakeholders as well -- doctors and hospitals, insurers and employers -- on the principles to engage consumers to be better shoppers with their health care dollars.
Minnesota still has a real opportunity to make measurable headway on reducing costs and improving quality of health care. But any progress could be derailed by proposed taxes and assessments included in legislation advancing in the House and Senate. Lawmakers risk taking one step forward and two steps backward.
The additional costs would fall especially hard on small and medium-size employers, thus affecting their ability to offer insurance to employees. That's terribly significant as nearly two-thirds of Minnesotans receive health coverage through employers -- the second highest rate in the nation.
To be clear, the bill takes important steps toward improving the availability of cost and quality information, expanding health information technology, and promoting wellness. Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, deserves credit for being a force for change. As co-chairman of both the Governor's Health Care Transformation Task Force and the Legislative Commission on Health Care Access, Huntley has underscored that we cannot accept the status quo if Minnesota's health care system is to work.
Most importantly, these bills take bold steps toward restructuring the payment and delivery of health care -- items essential to creating a market-based system that pays for results and outcomes, not just procedures. Rewarding value -- and not volume -- will achieve efficiencies and cost savings. Improved and coordinated delivery of care will reduce the need for costly procedures and hospitalizations, while at the same time provide incentives to doctors and hospitals to increase the quality of care.
The reforms are consistent with the health care policy put forward by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota Business Partnership.
As encouraging as these elements are, any steps toward reducing costs could be nullified under the proposed tax increases and assessments.
The proposed costs will have the greatest impact on the fully insured market, made up mainly of small and medium-size employers and individuals, which already pay many health care taxes and assessments. Combined with existing taxes, the costs could equate to as much as 11 percent of premiums for small and medium-size businesses.
The legislation provides the framework for Minnesota to be a leader in rebuilding the health care system around results. Doing so not only means that Minnesotans receive higher quality care, but also double-digit increases in health care costs may be a thing of the past. We are hopeful that lawmakers will advance this much-needed reform, and they should be able to do so without first putting employers and workers in a deeper hole. The cure cannot be worse than the disease.
Dan Schmidt, owner of Mercury Office Supply in St. Paul, is chairman of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Health Care Policy Committee.