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Minnesota is breaking the mold

Minnesota is holding its breath as SF 118, the Minnesota Health Act, navigates its way through the state legislature. The latest news is that, on February 10, it was passed by the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. This takes it to the House on February 25. Why is this breaking the mold? Well, we have to go back to 1991 to find the first single-payer bill. Despite repeated attempts, it has never before made it out of the Senate. This breakthrough suggests health care reform is definitely on the table this year, not just in Minnesota, but across America. If you listen to the GOP, anything that moves away from insurance provided by for-profit companies is the equivalent of creating a communist state on US soil. Yet SF 118 would make the state of Minnesota the sole provider of insurance. It is that radical. It would eliminate all health plans written by private companies for use within the state.

What does America make of this? Well there is new polling data available. It emerges from a joint piece of research by CBS and the New York Times into whether America wants a national health plan. As the new administration of President Obama takes up the reins of power, perhaps it should not surprise us that 59% of those surveyed say they want a national program to cover some or all parts of the present heath care services. The numbers break down into 49% in favor of cover for all health-related problems and 10% saying the national plan should only cover emergency treatment. A mere thirty-two percent thought that insurance should be the sole responsibility of private companies. This contrasts quite significantly with a poll conducted in 1979 which asked the same questions. Thirty years ago, forty-eight percent thought private companies should handle all health-related insurance, twelve percent thought a national plan should only cover emergencies, twenty-eight percent wanted national cover for all health care provision, with the remainder expressing no firm opinion.

The political landscape has been moving steadily away from simple black-and-white politics. Modern Americans are prepared to accept the need for change even though the politics may be more left than right. Why is this? Well, the latest news on health insurance rates is that they have been rising faster than inflation for the last five years. What previously was easily affordable to most blue collar and middle class Americans, is now unaffordable to the majority. Even the big health plans offered by employers are straining budgets as the recession really starts to bite. As more are losing their jobs and reliant on COBRA, the prospect of life without health insurance is slowly sinking in. This makes the progress of SF 118 so important. If this bill is passed into law, it will give a test bed for the kind of health provision enjoyed in Europe and many other parts of the world. If it proves acceptable on the ground, it is likely to spread across all the blue states and, perhaps, even some of the red. Now that really would break the mold!


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