Seeking health care for all

Radinovich, other forum participants, press for single-payer

MAKING HIS POINT on health care was Bruce Miller (right) of the Minnesota Farmers Union. Other participants in the public forum at VCC were steelworker Mike Malesk, DFL Congressional candidate Joe Radinovich, and Minnesota Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Roach.

by Tom Coombe -

DFL Congressional hopeful Joe Radinovich joined other participants in a public forum Wednesday and said health care must be made available to all Americans.
“Health care for all” was the common theme as about 100 people crammed into a lecture hall at Vermilion Community College to hear from Radinovich, the head of the state’s nurses union and others in what doubled as a campaign stop for the Democrat hoping to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan in Congress.
Radinovich, a former state legislator, has made health care one of the focal points in his campaign and told those in Ely that “Medicare for all is a specific proposal I support.”
He told the group he envisioned a nation in which “everybody has access to health care by being a citizen of this country.”
Others were even stronger for sweeping changes to the nation’s health care system including Rose Roach, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association.
“Nurses want patients to get the care they need when they need it, not just when they can afford it,” said Roach.
Interrupted at times by applause, Roach called for changes to the health care system that “will put private insurers out of business.”
She attacked a system that allowed one health insurance CEO to collect $66 million in salary.
“He made $66 million and he didn’t heal anybody,” said Roach.
She added “this is about a reallocation of money to where it should go, which is people’s care.”
Local physician Joe Bianco wasn’t a participant in the forum, which was organized by area Democrats, but he told the audience that Roach was “spot on” in her remarks.
Bianco pointed to nations with a single-payer health care system and said “people say it’s rationed care - no, it’s smart care.”
Bianco said the medical system is rife with waste including unnecessary mammograms, surgeries and other procedures, and he pointed to data that the most important factor in personal health is individual behaviors including diet and smoking.
Bianco called for more “upstream” spending to improve health and said savings in heatlh care would allow for more investments in schools, police and public infrastructure.
“What I do is put out the fires,” said Bianco. “We have to work upstream so people don’t get sick.”
Radinovich, who is locked in a tight battle with Republican Pete Stauber of Hermantown, pointed to his own upbringing and a pair of family tragedies and said he was saved in part “ because my father had a good job and access to health care.”
“Way too often the difference is if somebody has a good job (and health insurance),” said Radinovich.
Radinovich cited statistics showing that the nation spends 18 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, nearly double that of nations such as Canada, Norway, Germany and Japan.
“We’re paying more and not even covering everybody,” he said.
Even with the approval of Affordable Care Act, nearly 30 million people remain without insurance and millions more are underinsured.
Others are paying astronomical premiums, including some farmers who pay as much as $45,000 annually for health insurance, according to Minnesota Farmers Union President Bruce Miller.
“How the heck can you buy a farm and have to put out another $2,000 or $3,000 a month,” said Miller. “It doesn’t work. We need a universal health care system that works for all of us.”
Mike Maleska, a steelworker at the Minntac plant in Mt. Iron, agreed and said steelworkers’ contracts “could be taken care of in a weekend if we didn’t have the medical issue.”
Roach added “for nurses the issue isn’t a technical one but a moral one,” and she rattled off data showing that nearly two-thirds of bankruptcies in the United States are related to medical bills.
She charged that “deductibles and copays are so high people can’t afford the care they need,” and that “people will die” because of a lack of access to health care.
A single-payer system would also close racial and gender disparities, according to Roach, who said that women and people of color are more likely to be shut out of health care under the current system.
Supporters also disputed charges that a move to a single-payer system is unaffordable.
They cited a study by the Lewin Group, a subsidiary of United Health Care, that showed a single-payer system in Minnesota would save nearly $190 billion over 10 years, saving an average household about $1,400 per year and achieving universal coverage while reducing the state’s health care spending.
Radinovich said Medicare has overhead costs of about three percent, compared to between 13 and 18 percent for private insurers.
“We’re not getting any value for that,” said Radinovich.
Roach added that 60 percent of the revenue of private insurers comes from government, adding “we’re paying for it already.”
According to Roach, “in the last 40 years there has been a 3,500 percent increase in (the number of) health care administrators compared to a 100 percent increase in physicians.”
Radinovich said he envisioned a system that involved “intermediate steps,” including expansion of the Medicare system, as the nation moved toward a single-payer system.
The speakers addressed a receptive audience, including one woman who said “it’s incompatible to make profit off of people’s illness.