Brainerd area health care professionals told members of a Minnesota Senate panel Monday that more funds are needed for nurses' training and for outstate hospitals' care for the uninsured.
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL, Minneapolis, and Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, heard testimony for two hours at the Brainerd Public Library. Koering's a member of the Health Human Services and Corrections Budget Committee and Berglin is the chair.
Other members were kept away from Monday's meetings because of the poor road conditions, Berglin explained.
The veteran DFLer outlined her party's health care package. The DFL seeks to implement the Fair Drug Pricing Act and restore cuts to Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare that were made last session.
Victoria Dahl, director of nursing at Central Lakes College, said there will be a great demand for nurses in the coming years. She cited a need for funding for faculty and classroom instruction. She praised CLC's nursing faculty and said they were partnering with K-12 educators in order to encourage young people to enter nursing.
Koering said similar messages were heard from nursing educators in St. Cloud, Willmar, Albert Lea and other locations.
"We are in a time of very scarce resources," Berglin said. "We believe in the importance of it (higher education health care programs)."
Dale Benson, director of human resources and community relations at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd, said the state was "overly aggressive" in the cuts it made to hospitals for their treatment of Medical Assistance and General Assistance Medical Care patients.
"Every penny that hospitals spend treating these newly uninsured patients will affect us," Benson said.
He also called for legislation to help level the playing field between hospitals and niche providers who establish ambulatory surgery centers and endoscopy centers. He used St. Joseph's current decision regarding an ambulatory surgery center joint venture as an example.
"Community hospitals and physicians, especially specialists, are not in the same business. ... Physicians may pursue business paths inconsistent with and competitive to the visions and strategies of the community hospitals they serve when their income suffers under the weight of market dynamics.
"Many providers, like SJMC, pursue joint ventures under the assumption that if they do not agree to a joint venture arrangement, they stand to lose their entire line of business -- there is a sense of resignation that 'retaining half a loaf is better than none at all.'"
Benson said it's not right that not-for-profit hospitals that serve everyone be held to a higher standard than for-profit entities that serve only who they want to serve.
He also asked lawmakers to support health care education programs to avoid a shortage of health professionals in the future.
Kevin Dens, a Brainerd dentist, spoke against a provider tax which gets passed on to consumers. He said many dentists lose money when they treat patients who don't have the means to pay for dental services.
Louie Kappes, with Clinic Pharmacy at Brainerd Medical Center, echoed comments he made last fall when a GOP House member aired the Republican health care proposals. Pharmacies, he said, provide a real service to many elderly patients -- one that mail order pharmacies don't provide. Too often, he said, health insurance companies dictate prices and make it difficult for rural pharmacies to compete.
Brainerd City Council member Mary Koep, a member of the Minnesota State Board on Aging, called for more responsibility to be taken on by the individual regarding health care.
"I think the more government is involved ... and is willing to pay the more service will cost," she said.
Koering said he's keeping an open mind on health care issues as Monday's start of the legislative session nears. One of his priorities, he said, will be to offer legislation to help employers of 50 people or less pool their resources and obtain less expensive health care coverage.
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