About Me

Twenty years ago I asked a Tarot card reader what would I be doing when I was 50. She replied, “I see you doing something so wildly creative, it defies a job title.” Only recently did I realize that was a slick way of saying, “I have no idea of what you’ll be doing.” But that prediction kept me charging ahead to the fifties with zeal and anticipation. Now that the future is today, I’m ready for anything!

MinnesotaCare: a Model for Obamacare?

As an advocate of single-payer health coverage, I like MinnesotaCare. It has a few glitches, but once they’re identified and fixed the program could be the model for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. (“Obamacare” is a term I’ve come to embrace. A one-of-a-kind program shouldn’t be known by an acronym, ACA, that is shared by millions of other organizations.)

After being on MinnesotaCare for several months, these are the benefits and challenges I’ve identified:

The benefits
• MinnesotaCare is single payer. One insurance provider covers medical, vision, and dental claims. I’m not crazy about the idea of a health insurance exchange, a central concept of Obamacare. Buying health insurance isn’t the same as window-shopping at the Mall of America for a flirty party dress and pair of peep-toe pumps. Shopping for health insurance isn’t fun – it’s tedious and frustrating.

Premium payments are based on a sliding scale. No matter how much money you make, you feel you pay too much for health insurance. In the long journey to create Obamacare, details came into focus as policymakers drilled down. Through focus groups and listening sessions, they discovered that $400 a month for health insurance was beyond the reach of many American families. There is no short-form answer for determining MinnesotaCare premiums, as you can see from this schedule. But you can still qualify with an annual income as high as $52,512 – which isn’t that much when you think about it.

The opportunities
• Sweeten the reimbursement rates. Health insurance is useless if medical providers won’t accept it. The MinnesotaCare provider I chose is South Country Health Alliance. While I’ve had no problem using South Country for medical, prescription and vision claims, I have yet to find a dentist in southeast Minnesota who accepts it. (I’m on a couple of waiting lists that stretch several weeks out.) I don’t know if nonparticipation is because of South Country in specific or MinnesotaCare in general. If providers don’t accept Obamacare because of what it is (or who created it), opponents will say, “See, it doesn’t work.” We need to find a way to make sure it does work.

• Make it easier for customers (and providers) to ask questions. When you call the MinnesotaCare information line, you get a recording suggesting that you call on Thursday or Friday because of the high volume of calls. If you have a question on Monday, and need to schedule an appointment now to avoid a long waiting list, you don’t want to wait until Thursday or Friday. And the backlog I’m talking about is just for MinnesotaCare. Can you imagine the questions people will have about Obamacare coverage? Even if there’s an email address where you can leave your question and a representative will get back to you, you feel that you’ve done something.

• Remove income as an eligibility requirement. Awhile back I wrote about how I was too affluent as a Pine County resident to qualify for MinnesotaCare, but became eligible when I moved to Dodge County. Can you imagine if a similar yardstick were used for public school eligibility? “I’m sorry, but you’re too smart to qualify”? Public school is there for all who wish to use it, regardless of means level. You’re not forced to use public schools. You’re mandated to use a school, but it doesn’t have to be a public one. If you’d rather have your kids attend a private school, go forth and God love you.

MinnesotaCare isn’t Cadillac coverage care, as I discovered when I bought my latest pair of glasses. Still, less-than-Cadillac coverage is fine if you didn’t have a car in the first place. As President Obama has frequently said, if you’re happy with your private insurance coverage, you can keep it. But if you need insurance and can’t get it, you have an outlet. And Minnesota’s very own MinnesotaCare could be the model for it.

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