Policy

Franken defends health care reform

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) Friday offered a spirited defense of the newly minted health care law, arguing the reforms will ultimately save money by focusing on preventive programs like physical education and nutrition. In remarks at a forum sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, Franken also accused critics of distorting the […]

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) Friday offered a spirited defense of the newly minted health care law, arguing the reforms will ultimately save money by focusing on preventive programs like physical education and nutrition.

In remarks at a forum sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, Franken also accused critics of distorting the law for political gain.

“The power of misinformation must not be underestimated,” Franken said. “Misinformation came very close to killing this bill. I think that now the bill has passed, people will be curious to know what’s actually in it.”

The health care law, the most sweeping set of reforms since the birth of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s, bans insurance companies from denying coverage or hiking premiums for patients with pre-existing conditions. It also requires most people to buy insurance and provides tax credits to help small businesses and consumers purchase coverage.

Franken, however, chose to highlight the less obvious parts of the health care law. For example, the law provides $15 billion over 10 years to a “prevention and public health fund” that focuses on removing social barriers to health, such as neighborhood crime that prevents kids from playing in the park, or cash-strapped schools that can’t afford fruits and vegetables for lunch, he said.

Franken also noted the law establishes a “value index task force” to explore ways to change Medicare’s reimbursement formula, which rewards volume over quality. He said Minnesota, whose residents enjoy low-cost, high-value care, gets penalized by Medicare because it receives less money than states with poorer quality health systems like Texas.

“This is perverse,” he said.

Franken acknowledged that it will take considerable time for reform, especially cost savings, to play out.

“A lot of this will be in the implementation,” he said. “We’ll see what works, what doesn’t. We do have a fiscal crisis and so much of this bill is prevention. That’s hard for [the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office] to score. We’ll see what the savings are.”

But some experts warn there may not be enough time. The law adds 30 million new customers to a  fee-for-service system that might not be ready for them, said Richard Norling, the former president and CEO of Premiere Inc., an alliance of nonprofit hospitals and health systems.

“We have a system that’s incredibly episodic and transactional, and is reinforced by [an unsustainable] payment system,” Norling said. “Will there be sufficient time for the redesign of care, or will draconian measures have to be taken?”

In the end, history will vindicate the reforms, Franken predicted.

“Ten years from now, hopefully we can look at this moment and say the tide started to change,” he said. “This got the ball rolling. We’re better off because of it.”