Saturday, March 31, 2018

Message from LSP that applies to rural folks in both states.

March 2018

Dear fellow rural Minnesotan,

We are writing to you because we’re concerned about a serious problem — in fact, a crisis — that is hurting people in rural communities all over our state. This crisis is a healthcare system that is failing rural people and rural communities. Too many of us are not able to afford or get the care we need because of our income, what kind of work we do, or where we live. We believe this is wrong, and it’s harming not only people directly facing these situations, but everyone in our communities, because we all depend on and need each other.

We are Leslea Hodgson, Al Kruse, and Paula Williams. We’re from rural communities in different corners of the state and represent different walks of life, but we’ve all faced the healthcare crisis in some way, and we share a belief that ordinary people, working together, hold the key to solving this crisis. We are members of the Land Stewardship Project, a grassroots membership organization here in Minnesota that works for strong, healthy rural communities, including more family farmers and stewardship of the land.

We are asking you today to return the enclosed postcard to let us know you will

join us to fight for a solution to the rural healthcare crisis.

We know strong rural communities aren’t possible when we can’t get quality healthcare where we live. We know change is needed and that we cannot rely on the healthcare industry “experts” to bring forward a solution that will work for rural people. We’re working together towards a healthcare system that will work for everybody, throughout our lives. That isn’t the way things are now. At best, we’ve found that only some pieces of the current system work for some people, some of the time. We know it could and should be so much better.

Many people's jobs provide no health insurance benefits, or inadequate ones People with employer- provided insurance often still face unaffordable premiums, deductibles, and co-pays, and complicated requirements like “in-network” rules that make it hard to access care. Even people who may, for the moment, be happy with insurance they get through work know they risk losing it if they ever need or want to change jobs. And most family farmers, other small business owners, and self-employed people are left to try and find coverage on the private insurance market On top of that, we see too many rural hospitals and clinics closing or reducing services.

The fact is, quality, affordable, accessible healthcare is too hard to come by in rural Minnesota.

And because healthcare is a matter of life and death, this is a crisis.

Like countless other Minnesotans, the three of us have each struggled to find affordable, quality
healthcare coverage. Please read on for our stories.

Leslea’s  story:   Farming   and   running   our  own   businesssness                              left    my     husband    and    me    without    healthcare    until  we found MinnesotaCare

“My   husband   and   I   graze   cattle,   sell    beef,    and    run    a    cabinet-making    shop    on our   our farm  in  Fillmore   County,   in   southeastern   Minnesota.   Before   we   began   farming   and working   independently,   we   had   “jobs”,   not   careers,   that    provided    only    partial cost-share    on    a    group    insurance    policy.We     made    the    decision    to    work    for ourselves    from    home,    raising    livestock    and    building    cabinets    in    the    woodworking  shop we
had   built.   But   working   for   ourselves   meant   dealing    with    health    insurance    on    our own on the individual market.

For a while, I went back to an off-farm job where I worked enough hours to qualifyqualifyffor 50 percent
cost-share    on    a    policy    just    for    myself.    But    as    the    cattle    herd    grew,    we   realized  that   it    takes    both    us    to    be    available on the farm to properly care for our livestock and to fill orders at the shop. Next, we bought an   individual    insurance    policy,    but    it had   both    high    premiums    and    such    a    big    deductible    that    we    couldn’t    actually afford  to  go  to   the   doctor   after   paying   for   insurance.   It   felt   like   we   were getting   no   value    for    our    money,    and    were    just    getting    ripped    off by    the    insurance    company.We     ended    up    discontinuing    insurance altogether.

A   farm   accident   or   serious   health   problem   would   have  ruined   us   during   this    time. Finally, in  2014,   we   found out about MinnesotaCare, and qualified for good, comprehensive insurance with no   deductible,   at    a low premium cost.We couldn't find that from insurance companies on the open market.The policies they called “affordable” had deductibles and out-of-pocket   charges    so    high,    they    weren’t    healthcare    at    all,    just catastrophic care.That kind of policy would have left us open to huge medical debt, bankruptcy, and losing what we have worked hard to build.The only policy that provides value for what we pay ended up being    a   public   plan    offered    by    our    state.    MinnesotaCare    has    been    the    perfect    answer    to our    healthcare    problems.    I    think    a    program    like     this    is    what    all    people    who   want to run their own business, or farm,
or work independently, need. Our independent veterinarian shouldn’t have to pay  $1,850a 1,850 a month for health insurance because he chose to be independent.”

Al’s   story:   Most   of   my   working   life,   I   had   to   go without  without hhealthcare

“I live in Marshall in the southwestern part of the state. I worked for almost 20yyears    as    an    independent    territory    manager,    marketing    farm    machinery    to    dealers    in a   three-state   area.   Health    insurance    was    an    expense I could not afford. I was so lucky to have survived those years without a major illness or injury that I couldn’t tough through.

My   situation    changed    when    I    got    married    in    2002.    I    was    eligible    for    coverage through      my     wife’s     employer.    Deductibles    and    co-pays    were    low    and    affordable.    But at    one    point,    Blue    Cross    and    Blue    Shield    designated    Sanford    Canby,    thirty   miles    away     from    us,    as    the    “preferred    provider,”     not    my     local    hospital    two miles    from    my     home.    I    don’t    think    health    insurance    companies    should  be    able    to    come    between    rural    people    and     our    doctors     and hospitals in our communities like this.

Now I am old enough to qualify for Medicare, along with a supplemental plan, for a cost of about $400 a month, with no deductible or co-pays.This is affordable for me and is better coverage than I had before, and   my   wife   and   I   can   budget   for   our   premiums    and    don’t    have    to    worry    about ssurprise   bills.    Compared    to    what    I    know    so    many    people    in    their    50’s    and early 60’s have to pay for healthcare  like $20,000
a year or more between premiums and deductibles  being on Medicare is an hugeimprovement.    It    doesn’t    make    any    sense    to    me    that    people    should    only    be able   to   have  this   good    coverage,    like    I    have    now,    once    they    turn    65.  We    all could   have  better   health    at    a    reduced    cost    as    a    society    if    something    like Medicare was available to everyone.”

Paula’s story: Diabetes means healthcare is a matter of life anddeath

“I   am   self-employed    and   live    on   a   small    farm    near    Barnum    with    my    son   and    spouse. I  am  a   Type   I   Diabetic   which   means   that   quality   healthcare  is   a matter   of   life    and    death    for    me.    Like    anyone    with    Diabetes,    being    able to    take    good    care    of    my    condition    on    a    day-to-day    basis    is    critical,    and  each   year   the   necessary   doctor   visits,   blood    work,    medications,   and    supplies    to stay healthy cost thousands of dollars.

When my spouse retired in 2016, we had to go on the individual market to find health insurance coverage.    I    am    grateful    that    the    Affordable    Care    Act    (ACA)    does    not allow insurance   companies   to   deny    me    coverage    because    of    my    diabetes.    I    am also    grateful    that    through    the    ACA    we    receive    a    subsidy    of    over    $1,300 a   month    to    help    cover    the    cost    of    our    premium.    That    said,    our   policy
requires   that   I   pay  a   deductible   of   $6,500   before   the    insurance    company ppays  for   any   of   my needed diabetes care. I am baffled by the ffact that over $15,000 a year in subsidies goes   directly   from   the    federal    government    to the   insurance   company   when   we   receive   such   a    poor    product    in return.   Ultimately,   this    leaves    us    feeling    like    we    don’t    have    any    health insurance at all.”

It isn’t easy to share these stories. But we think it is important, because we know many others have faced similar and worse. You probably have your own story of how the current healthcare system is failing rural people, causing anxiety and uncertainty. When so many people in our midst are struggling to meet such a basic need, it holds us all back from being able to have the kind of thriving, prosperous communities we deserve to live in.

We would like to hear your story. Share it with us when you send back the enclosed postcard letting us know you are with us to work for a healthcare system that values rural Minnesota.

Closings and cuts at rural hospitals and clinics are also part of this crisis, as you’ve likely experienced. The complicated insurance system puts a big strain on small, independent healthcare providers. When local hospitals get taken over by huge, corporate entities, rural people’s care often is no longer a priority.

A recent example is the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Albert Lea. Mayo claims it needs to eliminate essential inpatient services there, like childbirth, intensive care, and major surgeries,
supposedly for economic reasons. We think such decisions should be based on what medical services the people in a community need, not on what makes the most money for large, corporate institutions.

Who does our current healthcare system work for? From the perspective of rural people trying to get quality, affordable healthcare for ourselves and our families, our current system is broken. But from a different perspective, this system is actually working as it’s designed. From the perspective of an insurance company or major, corporate medical institution, you see what this is all about: centralizing profits in the hands of fewer and fewer large corporations and wealthy individuals. 

All the fees and hassles — deductibles, co-pays, rules about what is and isn’t covered, “out-of- network” charges — make sense if the goals are to make as much money as possible while making the system so complicated, it discourages people from asking questions or trying to change it.

The truth is that this system is broken for regular people like us, but working just fine for the major corporations and their executives that created it. The healthcare system we have now is funneling unbelievable amounts of money from people to corporations without meeting our needs.

Here are a few numbers that illustrate who the system is working for:

• Minnesota "non-profit" insurance companies have hundreds of millions of dollars in "reserves " One of them, Medica, transferred $120 million last year from its "non-profit" HMO to its for-profit business out of state.
• Mayo Clinic, also a "non-profit," recently reported that it had $2 69 billion in international
investments in 2016.
• In 2017, the Associated Press reported that Stephen Helmsley, the CEO of UnitedHealth Group, was the highest-paid executive in Minnesota at $15 7 million
But our healthcare system doesn’t have to be based on corporate greed. We can build a better system where the goal is to make sure everyone in Minnesota gets the care they need, when and where they need it. No one would be left out to fend for themselves We could remove the huge worry of finding healthcare coverage from people’s lives, freeing people to do the work they want to do and live the lives they want to live. That would mean stronger, healthier, more vibrant rural communities for us all.
Healthcare is a basic need, and rural people need it in our own communities. It’s too fundamental to our lives to leave in the control of large corporations like insurance companies that have shown that in order to increase profits, they will sacrifice the quality of our rural healthcare Public policy and our public institutions are how, together, we take care of things that everyone needs and that no one can handle on their own.
In our democracy, it’s up to us — everyday people — to work together and use our power to change systems that aren’t working for us and build better ones instead. It’s our right and responsibility to speak up, take action, and work through our government to enact policies that are in the best interests of the people. We can create a simple, publicly-accountable healthcare system that would take insurance companies out of the driver's seat, no longer putting profits before people, so it would be affordable regardless of a person’s income.
Return the enclosed postcard if you’re in. We need you to join us to make this change. Insurance companies and other corporations won't give up control without a fight Only the power of organized people can beat their money power. We’ll update you on how to take action in the months and years to come. Thanks in advance for getting involved!
LSP Healthcare Organizing Committee members:
Leslea Hodgson
Al Kruse
Paula Williams
Fountain (Fillmore County)
Marshall (Lyon County)
Barnum (Carlton County)

P.S. Send back the enclosed postcard today! Join us in the fight to build a straightforward healthcare system that puts rural communities first, not insurance company profits

Land Stewardship Project
Attn: Healthcare Organizing Committee
PO Box 130
Lewiston, MN 55952