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Franken: Health care system broken -- There is 'incredible waste because we aren't universal'

Detroit Lakes -- Al Franken, the comedian-turned-U.S. Senate candidate, thinks the current state of health care in Minnesota -- and the United States as a whole -- is anything but funny.

"Every other industrialized country in the world has universal health care -- we're the only industrialized country that doesn't -- and I think it's no coincidence that we spend twice as much per person as any other industrialized country on health care," Franken said during a visit to the Detroit Lakes Newspapers offices on Friday. "And yet we don't have as good outcomes as they do.

"We're last in the industrialized world in preventive care. We have 47 million people who are uninsured, with tens of millions more who are underinsured because they can't afford full coverage ... and they live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they have a medical crisis. Medical crises are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in this country.

"Fifty percent of the bankruptcies in this country are caused by medical crises. They don't have that in other industrialized countries."

Franken also notes that the current health care system has "tremendous waste," with 34 percent of health care dollars being spent on administrative fees.

"No other country spends more than 21 percent (on administrative fees)," he said. "We have people going to work every day for insurance companies trying to figure out how to deny you care.

"I hear story after story of incredible waste in our system because we aren't universal."

Franken notes that incumbent U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (who will be his opponent in the November election if Franken wins the Democratic endorsement) "takes a lot of money" from pharmaceutical and insurance companies and their PACs (political action committees).

"So he voted to prohibit Medicare from negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies in Medicare Part D (drug coverage program)," he said. 'This costs our seniors billions of dollars a year and taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year. If you want to start balancing our budget you could start by allowing Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceuticals on drug prices.

"But it costs more than that, Franken added. "It costs a tremendous amount of human suffering."

As an example, he mentioned a nurse he met recently who worked in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Cambridge, Minn.

"She says that when seniors hit their 'doughnut holes' (i.e., drug coverage gaps) in Medicare Part D she sees them ending up in the ICU (intensive care unit) and then they have to treat them. That costs a lot more than many drugs would cost," said Franken.

"And when they're finally well enough that she's ready to send them home she calls the pharmacist and says 'Mrs. Nelson' is going to be in to pick up this prescription and that prescription. The pharmacist calls back three days later and says Mrs. Nelson never showed up because she can't afford it," he continued. "Lo and behold, not too long later, Mrs. Nelson shows up again (in ICU). That costs our medical and health care system a tremendous amount of money. That's why we spend so much more than any other industrialized society (on health care)."

Franken feels that not only would universal health care ultimately save money, it would also relieve the average person's anxiety about health care -- "and also, it's the right thing to do."

Franken noted that during a round table discussion at Minnesota State University-Mankato that he did during a college tour last fall, the university's chancellor of finances told him "the No. 1 reason for the spiraling cost of higher education was health care."

He also feels education should be given a much greater priority in Minnesota, from early childhood through college, and is in favor of finding federal money to help fund after school programs as well.

Besides establishing a universal health care system, and access to affordable, quality education for every American child, Franken said one of his other priorities if he happened to reach the U.S. Senate would be to help promote a "green economy."

Franken -- who drives a hybrid on the campaign trail -- said he feels putting a greater emphasis on developing renewable energy resources such as biofuels and wind power would have a variety of other benefits.

"It would address global warming, create lots of jobs, break our dependence on foreign oil ... it's a big priority for me, because I see it as a win-win-win-win-win," Franken said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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