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St. Mary's, LP-A projects have things in common, one big difference

It has been interesting to me to compare the progress of the Lake Park School Bond issue with the St. Mary's regional hospital decision to expand their campus. What they have in common is: 1) They are both building projects constituting considerable expense, 2) They both can provide a great deal of advantages for the communities they are being built in, and 3) They both have the capacity to financially impact local consumers. The school building by raising property taxes and the hospital by raising operating and service costs that will eventually be passed on as higher insurance premiums.

On the other side, there is the difference between private and public funding.

The school bond has to be put up for a vote where it receives intense scrutiny and vigorous public debate. Each individual is given information on what their out-of-pocket costs will be and have the ability to run their own cost benefit analysis. There is opportunity to publicly discuss alternatives and in the end, have the majority decide what will happen.

The St. Mary's decision is presented to the community as a done deal having been decided by a few stake holders whose main concern is the impact to St. Mary's Hospital.

I understand that it would be very hard for the Board of St. Mary's to project the future outlay to the individual in terms of insurance premiums and cost, but it does bother me that this doesn't even seem to be an issue in the decision. One of the points agreed on, for the most part, in the spirited debate that is going on right now concerning health care, is that health care costs are out of control and rising way to fast. Is it truly necessary to have brand new or completely remodeled hospitals in Staples, Wadena, Perham, Detroit Lakes, and Fargo? Are there alternatives to building, such as shared facilities, consolidation, or cooperative ventures? Could the money being spent on building projects be used instead to lower individual medical costs?

The truth is we don't know and there has not been ample opportunity or information from multiple sources to have public debate on the subject, locally or nationally. What I do know is that I now spend as much on health insurance premiums that I do for Federal Income Tax, State Income Tax, and Local Property Tax combined. It is the single highest cost in my household budget. I actually called my carrier one day and asked if there was any chance my rates would go down. She incredulously said that they only raise rates every April. Imagine what would happen if one of our units of government gave that response when we asked if our taxes would go down.

If the general public begins to think of health care insurance premiums the same way we think of taxes, we will demand that every private medical facility be prepared to tell us how we will be affected financially when major changes are made.

-- Donald A. Johnson, Detroit Lakes