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Minnesota health advocates push universal coverage

A coalition pushing universal health coverage for all Minnesotans today called for passage of a bill that would focus first on covering the estimated 77,000 children in the state who lack health insurance.

A group of supporters of the proposed Minnesota Health Security Act, introduced Thursday in the Minnesota Senate, said the need for affordable, universal coverage is especially urgent in light of the rising unemployment rate, now 7.2 percent nationally.

An estimated 374,000 Minnesotans, or 7.2 percent of the population, lack health insurance. The rate is higher in northwest Minnesota, where 8.2 percent lack coverage.

Labor, public health and clergy representatives gathered this morning in Moorhead to urge passage of the bill, which they said contains significant cost control measures and would help to eliminate costly emergency room care, where the uninsured often end up because they can't access preventive care.

"Untreated situations become worse, leading to a situation where people go to the emergency room," said Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

Last year, Minnesota hospitals confronted $373 million in uncompensated health services, a figure Hunter said is projected to increase to $500 million. Advocates said the cost of the bill has yet to be determined.