Monday, November 2, 2009

Our Two Senators on the Public Option

Al Franken was one of about 30 Senators who urged Harry Reid to offer a health care reform bill to the U.S. Senate that included a public option. Our Senior Senator, Amy Klobuchar, is not so sure the public option makes sense.
by Charlie Leck

Conventional wisdom, according to Amy Klobuchar and a bunch of lobbyists who are pounding constantly on her door, says that a public option in health care reform would damage Minnesota.

Others think that’s a lot of hokum.

The fact is that Minnesota is a state heavily invested in health care. We’ve got a huge health care industry here and most of its leaders oppose the public option. United Health Care is one of the biggest health care providers in America. The Mayo Clinic is the most famous and one of the largest clinics in the world and provides medical services to over a half million people each year. The University of Minnesota’s Medical School and Research Center is a national leader in medical research and innovation. Allina Medical is huge in the health care delivery system. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota is one of the biggest of all the blues in America. Medtronics is the manufacturer of the Pacemaker and many other significant medical devises. Children’s HeartLink is an international non-profit organization based in Minnesota. And that’s only a beginning to the list of heavy weights in the health care industry here.

Consider the employment impact of Minnesota’s health care industry. Approximately 13 percent of all jobs in Minnesota are in that business. It’s been estimated that 60 other jobs are affected for every 100 direct health care jobs in existence. The industry claims to contribute nearly 30 billion dollars to the state’s gross product.

The massive industry is concerned about the competition the public option would bring with it. That concern motivates them to do a lot of lobbying in the Congressional hallways of Washington and to contribute significantly to Congressional campaigns.

· Representative John Kline received nearly $100,000 from the industry since 1990. Kline strong opposes the public option.

· Representative Collin Peterson reports $45,000 in contributions from health care concerns in Minnesota. Peterson, so far, opposes the public option.

· Representative Michelle Bachman has taken in $46,000 from the health care industry here and she is the loudest and craziest of all public option foes.

· Newly elected Representative Erik Paulson has already gathered in $40,000 from the industry and stands four-square in opposition to the public option.

· Representatives Keith Ellison, Betty McColllum and Tim Walz all received considerably less in contributions (an average of $19,000) and all favor the public option to one degree or another.

The point here is that the health care industry in Minnesota is willing to spend big bucks to present its case. They spent nearly $88,000 on Al Franken’s recent campaign. They’ve given Senator Klobuchar nearly $75,000.

It is difficult for any nationally or state elected official in Minnesota to argue that health care is a basic human right and should be provided without cost – as in a universal health care program. It’s a common concept in every other industrialized nation in the world. It is odd that our nation, pretending to be the most democratic and free country in the entire world, hasn’t come to see health care as a basic right of its entire people.

Could it be that the money flows too freely in the industry both here in Minnesota and all across the nation? Just think about how much health care could have been provided for all that lobbying money. In fact, profits are immense in Minnesota’s health care industry. Two years in a row, a while back, United Health Care, paid a bonus to its CEO in excess of 90 million dollars – two years in a row.

It will be interesting to watch our two Senators in action – when the time comes to actually vote – and then consider if any of this big money may have influenced their votes. In three more years, Klobuchar is going to have to answer to the people and not to the health care lobby.

A large majority of Minnesotans want a public option in a new health care delivery system. Amy Klobuchar owes that majority her support. She has waffled a great deal on this issue and it is disappointing that she appears to be testing the wind, to see which way it is blowing at the moment. When we elected her, it appeared she’d be a tougher broad than that. Now, she looks pretty weak-kneed. I hope Franken can get to her.

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