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Lawmaker's View: Let Minnesotans 'buy in' for affordable health care

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Congress in 1965 believed what we know to be true today: Stable access to health care results in a better quality of life and better economy for everyone. When our neighbors are healthy, they are more likely to become employed and make meaningful contributions to the community.

Tony LoureyThat's why Medicaid, along with Medicare, was signed into law in 1965 as part of President Johnson's vision of a "Great Society" in which a safety net exists to collectively lift up our fellow Americans when they fall on hard times. Medicaid provides this vital security to this very day, especially for Americans who lose their job, cannot afford health care, or do not receive coverage from their employer.

Medicaid helps people who, on their own, must care for a sick child, a sibling who is struggling with a mental health crisis or opioid addiction, or an aging mother diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It does not discriminate against any group of people, and it does not identify one individual or family as more deserving than another. Medicaid is there for all of us, if and when we need it. The intent for this program has not changed for more than 50 years.

It is disheartening that some of my colleagues in the Legislature have proposed creating a huge new bureaucracy to force fellow Minnesotans to prove their worthiness of our social safety net. Changing Medicaid as we know it into a radical "prove-your-worth" program goes against the very core of who we are as a state. This is not my Minnesota; it just can't be. I hope it's not yours, either.

The authors of this proposal claim we need to follow the lead of Arkansas and Kentucky. The fact is Minnesota has set itself apart — in a good way. We have the second-highest work-participation rate in the country at 71.2 percent, while Arkansas and Kentucky are both in the high 50s. Minnesota has significantly better test scores and educational attainment, and Minnesota has a more diverse and much stronger economy. Underlying each of these enviable statistics is our focus on health. We consistently rank in the top tier of healthiest states.

None of this achievement is by accident. It is by design. It is because of our willingness to invest in the health of our people and our communities. These investments pay tremendous dividends across every sector of our society.

When people don't have health insurance, like Medicaid, they can still get sick, suffer a car accident, or experience a traumatic injury — and when they do, we care for them as fellow Minnesotans because it is our moral responsibility. But the cost of that care is paid by those "lucky enough" to already have health insurance. Minnesotans should all have access to affordable health care that improves their health and lives. That's why creating a choice for consumers to "buy in" to MinnesotaCare is extremely popular.

MinnesotaCare is affordable and has been an extremely successful program for more than two decades. It is part of Minnesota's legacy, and it makes us exceptional compared to other states. It is part of the fabric of our state. By creating a MinnesotaCare buy-in option, health care would be less costly for everyone. That's fairness. That's the Minnesota way.

So if you get a call from someone pushing a phony political poll that they later use to promote their radical agenda, listen carefully to the question. When they ask, "Do you think people on Medicaid should be required to work?" what they are really asking is, "Should we kick people off Medicaid because they can't find a job, their paperwork slips through the cracks, or they struggle to maintain work because of depression?"

Do we as Minnesotans really think people should have to prove their worthiness for health care when they lose their job or get a debilitating diagnosis? That price is too high, higher than any high-deductible plan.

I don't know about you, but the question I want asked is, "Do you think everyone should have access to affordable health care?" That's a real question with a real answer and solution.

Sen. Tony Lourey of Kerrick is a DFLer who represents District 11, which is west and south of Duluth, in the Minnesota Senate. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.