Duluth City Council calls for universal health care

The resolution provided councilors with an opportunity to rail against runaway health costs.

medication medicine drugs stock photo

The Duluth City Council waded into the waters of health care policy Monday night, as members unanimously passed a resolution in support of universal health care. The council is calling for the passage of both state and federal legislation that would provide health care for all, via the Minnesota Health Plan and the Medicare for All Act of 2021.

The resolution was sponsored by 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress and 3rd District Councilor Roz Randorf.

"We have a huge problem with our unfunded health care liability," Randorf said. "It's a crisis."

She noted that the city alone will pay more than $16 million in medical costs this year.


Roz Randorf

The issue of rising health care costs hit close to home for the City Council as it worked to reduce a proposed 10.72% levy increase by a point through a series of budget amendments Monday night.

Much of the city's need for additional tax dollars is driven by employee health insurance costs that have risen at an average annual rate of 10%.

"The health care system in this country is broken," Sipress said. "It's dysfunctional. It's actually kind of crazy."

"We're tired of pretending that the problem isn't deep. We're tired of pretending that we've got this great health care system, and if we can just fiddle around the edges, it's all going to be fine. The health care system in this country is out of control," he said, calling for meaningful reform.

Duluth City Councilor, Joel Sipress, speaks on the steps of Duluth City Hall before a protest march in June 2018. Jed Carlson/ File / Superior Telegram

Chris Rubesch, an officer for a local chapter of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said, "Here, in the city of Duluth, 26% of our city's budget goes to health care costs.


"The current system of employer-based insurance doesn't work for employees or employers," he said. "These groups are forever increasing costs, rather than addressing the root causes."

The resolution contends that the nation's current private health insurance system "creates financial and bureaucratic barriers that prevent individuals from obtaining medical care, drives up the overall costs of heath care at unsustainable rates and saddles individuals, businesses and local government with unsustainable health care costs."

Dr. Mary Owen of Duluth said medical care providers spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the growing burden of justifying care to insurers, and that has led to burnout.

"Insurance companies all to often dictate the care that our patients get, from how long they are in the hospital to which drugs we're allowed to prescribe them," she said.

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The resolution cited a 2021 survey that found more than one-quarter of Minnesotans have struggled with health costs and nearly half have postponed or forgone care due to the expense involved.

Advocates of universal care predict that if health care costs continue to climb at the current rate, Minnesota's health care spending will double from $47 billion today to $94 billion in 10 years. That sum would represent about 19% of the state's economy —more than Minnesota spends on housing and transportation, combined.

Supporters of universal care expect it will produce greater efficiencies and lower costs. In fact, sponsors of the federal Medicare for All Act project passage of legislation would yield $2 trillion to $5 trillion in health care savings over the next decade.


While universal care has its advocates, some heavy hitters in the medical industry continue to express skepticism and concerns about such a shift. The American Hospital Association provided a statement to Congress, saying: "While the AHA shares the objective of achieving health coverage for all Americans, we do not agree that a government-run, single-payer model is right for this country. Such an approach would upend a system that is working for the vast majority of Americans, and throw into chaos one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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