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Star Tribune: Minnesotans Already Reaping Benefits of Health Reform Law

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Just six months after President Obama signed health reform into law, Minnesotans are already beginning to reap its benefits.

During the health care debate, I met with Minnesotans of all stripes-doctors, nurses, seniors, small business owners, middle class families-and heard a variety of perspectives.

One thing I heard over and over again is that people felt like they were paying more and more for insurance without getting real health security in return. It seemed like the insurance companies always found a way to get out of delivering the benefits they promised-and that you paid for-when you needed them.

The new law is already closing those loopholes.

Some of the worst insurance company practices, like taking away coverage when you get sick or limiting the amount of care you can receive in a lifetime, are now prohibited. Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to kids with pre-existing conditions. Young adults can now stay on their parents' insurance through age 26. With many college graduates struggling to find work, this is critically important for many Minnesota families.

One aspect of the law that I worked on-called "medical loss ratio"-makes sure that starting this year, at least 80 cents out of every dollar you spend on health insurance will actually go for health care-not administration, marketing and profits.

Seniors and small business owners I spoke with were especially concerned about rising costs. Seniors falling into the Medicare "donut hole" were forced to choose between buying groceries and paying for prescriptions. Small business owners were forced to choose between cutting off health benefits and laying off workers.

The new law is already helping. Seniors hitting that donut hole are receiving $250 rebate checks (the law will close it entirely by 2020). Medicare beneficiaries will now receive free preventive care as part of their coverage. Nearly 78,000 small business owners are now eligible for tax credits to help cover employees, and many qualify for incentives to help them offer coverage to retirees who haven't yet reached age 65 to qualify for Medicare.

Eventually, reform will slow rising costs for everyone.

Many Minnesotans were surprised to learn that they pay an average of $1,100 a year in higher premiums to cover care for the uninsured. As those Americans gain coverage, Minnesotans already with insurance will be relieved of this hidden cost.

And, despite what some would have you believe, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the new law will decrease the deficit by $130 billion over the next decade.

Of course, some longer-term benefits -like consumer-friendly exchanges to help you pick the right plan for your family-won't take effect for a few years.

So it's perfectly understandable that some skepticism about reform endures. But those who seek to repeal the law would take away all of the things I've outlined that are already in place.

And those who seek to have our state "opt out" of the law are denying Minnesota its fair share of the benefits.

Already, our state is one of the very few choosing to walk away from federal grant money, a decision the Mayo Clinic says could jeopardize its position as a national standard-bearer for care and a key driver of jobs and economic growth for Minnesota.

There are going to be more opportunities to receive federal funding; we can't afford to miss out next time. Our state has been a leader in health care for decades. It would be a real shame to fall behind the curve.

There's still work to be done. And I'll keep listening to Minnesotans. But I supported reform because I heard too many stories about how our system was falling short-stories about Minnesotans driven into bankruptcy because they got sick or prevented from starting a small business because their pre-existing condition would make it impossible to find health insurance.

The new law is already making a difference. And I believe that, as it continues to take effect, Minnesotans will finally be able to enjoy real health security. These heartbreaking stories will become a thing of the past. And Minnesotans will continue to see why we worked so hard to pass reform.


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