Policy

Dear Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: Please Go Away Now

The only good thing I can say about Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty these days is that his reign of nothingness will mercifully conclude at the end of the year. (He’s on to the White House where he can be everyone else’s problem!) Until then, T-Paw seems determine to inflict as much damage on Minnesota as he can.

The only good thing I can say about Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty these days is that his reign of nothingness will mercifully conclude at the end of the year. (He’s on to the White House where he can be everyone else’s problem!)

Until then, T-Paw seems determine to inflict as much damage on Minnesota as he can.

Last week, Minnesota’s top medical groups circumvented Pawlenty by sending a letter to the feds answering questions about insurance exchanges, a key piece of the federal healthcare reform law. Pawlenty, who is running for president in 2012, is a fierce critic of so-called “ObamaCare” and has vowed to block the law.

Even more damaging, Pawlenty issued an executive order in early September preventing state agencies from applying for federal healthcare grants — a move that could cost Minnesota about $1 billion.

Frankly, I could care less about Pawlenty’s presidential ambitions. I will also acknowledge there are legitimate philosophical differences in the healthcare law, most notably the mandate that everyone buys insurance.

But there is something deeply more alarming here. Pawlenty’s political posturing is threatening Minnesota’s hard-earned reputation as a major force in healthcare innovation.

Minnesota always has been ahead of the nation in healthcare. For the most part, people here receive excellent, affordable care. In fact, experts have said Medicare’s volume-based payment system penalizes Minnesota by paying more money to states where patients keep coming back to hospital ER rooms.

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In 2008,  Minnesota passed its own ambitious healthcare reform law that includes an incentive-based payment system for hospitals and ambulatory firms that treat state employees and patients enrolled in the state’s health insurance programs.

Providers that compare favorably to benchmarks measuring the quality of diabetes, heart disease and pneumonia care, and that improve over time, will receive extra money. Eventually, consumers will be able to compare the cost and performance of all providers in Minnesota — a process known as peer grouping.

Mayo Clinic also is working with the feds on developing medical home demonstration projects, including a major study in Austin, Minnesota.

It’s hard to see how Minnesota can do all of this alone without some federal help. Pawlenty’s executive order blocks state access to more than 100 federal healthcare grants that would fund projects ranging from postpartum care to diabetes prevention.

That seems especially ironic, given the University of Minnesota and Mayo’s new ten year, $250 million-to-$350 million partnership to fight diabetes. The massive initiative is likely to require at least some federal dollars.

The federal healthcare law funds the Patient Centered Outcomes Outreach Institute, comparative effectiveness research, payment bundling, and measuring the quality and cost of care through a national Value Index.

Such projects that link money to quality will benefit Minnesota in the long run by reforming an outdated Medicare payment system that directs money away from high-performing healthcare states like Minnesota.

Pawlenty reminds me of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — and not in a good way.

Both are relatively young politicians who initially positioned themselves as moderate Republicans in traditionally Democratic-leaning states.

Both signed major healthcare reform laws. Both are running for president in 2012 and doing their best to undermine the promising reform laws they once had the vision to support.