From the Desk of the President (October, 2007)

Frustrated – the word does not even begin to describe my feelings on the issue of health insurance this year. It seems as if we are facing the same battle that we faced two years ago – with no progress made in our efforts to get the Employer off the dime on looking at the real reason we – all of us – face rising costs for our health insurance. The core problem is not HMO’s raising premiums or the Employer proposing higher co-pays for office visits and prescriptions. Those are just some of the many symptoms of the real problem. The real culprit is the insurance industry itself and until that is seriously addressed by Employer and Union alike; we are going to keep spinning our wheels, going nowhere fast.

You may remember my article from January 2006 where I wrote about Commissioner Opat’s comments regarding health insurance. If not, here is what I wrote – “Mr. Opat expressed his disappointment that single coverage premium remained at $0.00. He stated that he felt that there should be some sort of premium for single coverage as it would be fair for everyone to pay something. This statement was made in spite of the fact that HealthPartners told us that they would raise the rates 7/10 of 1% for the premium we had already agreed to if the County imposed a premium for single coverage. The Employer and, with the trickle down theory, the residents of Hennepin County, would have incurred that increased cost because we had a negotiated premium for the 2006 and 2007 rates so I am not sure where the fairness would be realized.” And here is my response to him -  “Commissioner Opat, if you are truly serious about joining the 21st century, I challenge you to put your words into action and do something that would have real meaning to all Hennepin County employees. I challenge you to join with AFSCME Council 5 and sponsor a resolution for the Hennepin County Board to endorse HR 676, the single-payer universal health care plan introduced by Representative John Conyers from Michigan. For years we have lamented on the spiraling cost of health insurance and premiums, gnashing our teeth and looking for quick fixes. The latest offering has been that people should look at how they spend their health dollars to keep costs down. All of that is just moaning about the symptoms – premium cost, co-pays, etc. - of this illness and it is time to quit that ineffective behavior. We have an opportunity to actually do something positive to address the illness itself – the health insurance industry. Can we count on you to join us in the 21st century and look way outside the box for solutions to this problem that affects all of us? I look forward to your response.”

I hate to report to you that we are still in the same boat – no leadership to address the real problem with insurance – just “fixes” for the symptoms. As of the writing of this article, the Employer has not even presented a proposal for the cost of insurance coverage. The Employer has all sorts of ideas on how to address our health and well-being but does not seem to want to touch the true culprit. We can talk until we are all blue in the face but nothing is going to have a long-lasting effect on the problem until such time as the insurance industry itself is addressed. I don’t know about you but I am really, really tired of skirting around the issue and trying to plug the many leaks in the dam of health problems. It is time to take this matter head on. I call on the Commissioners to stand up and act for all of us by, as the Hennepin County Board, sign onto the Conyers bill and to use their clout as a leader in NACO (National Association of Counties) to encourage all other counties around the country to do the same. Maybe then we can have a true dialog about the future of health insurance for all Hennepin County employees.

Sincerely, Jean