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Emmanuel hosts legislative forum on health care

Three state legislators and representatives for two federal lawmakers took part in a health care forum at Emmanuel Tuesday evening.

Rep. Kent Eken, Rep. Paul Marquart, Sen. Rod Skoe, Sharon Josephson for U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and Andrew Martin for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar talked about caring for the senior citizens of Becker County, and what health care reform could mean.

Moderator Sharon Sinclair asked several questions, including how to transform health care in Minnesota so that it provides access and quality at an affordable cost for everyone.

Statistically, 17 percent of the population in Becker County is 65 or older. Projections estimate the figure rising to 27 percent by 2030.

"How long do I have to solve this problem," Marquart asked, kicking off the evening of information and laughs.

He said of course the state needs to save somewhere in order to pay for the future, and one of those ways is to focus on chronic illnesses.

Medical costs would improve if people could be induced to take better care of themselves. That means more exercise, healthier eating and to stop smoking, he added.

Skoe added that long-term health care facilities are changing and are adding services and facilities to accommodate seniors and what they want.

"We have to continue to reinvent ourselves to maximize care but also provide what the patient wants," he said.

Josephson said that on the federal level, the health care bill, which is 1,000 pages, includes about 300 pages on transformation. The problem Peterson sees with it, she said, is seniors having access, or the lack of access rather, to health care.

Martin said that Klobuchar sees the value index for Medicare as a "quality of care versus the quantity of care." Providers shouldn't be concerned about how many people are being seen but rather the quality of care they are being given.

Eken said he'd like to see more home care, helping the elderly stay in their homes longer.

Shifting more to rural care, Sinclair asked what the rural impact is on long-term care providers.

Josephson said Peterson represents the most rural district in the United States. Keeping open the crucial access hospitals, like Mahnomen and Perham, for example, is important.

Something called the CLASS Act (Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act of 2009) will help with costs, Martin said. The payroll deduction would save money for future care. Meaning 30-somethings could be saving the entire time they're working to pay for health care costs when they're too old to work.

Martin said it's something that people don't think about when they're younger but will be prepared for rather than waiting until the end.

Marquart said the health care reform bill going through Congress could be good, but it could be a wash as well.

"My fear is it will get too watered down and not get anything done," he said.

A side note, he added, 40 percent of all bankruptcies are because of health care costs.

He also added that when door-to-door campaigning, he found that a good portion of the seniors are not originally from Detroit Lakes, but said they moved here because of the strong health care facilities in the town.

When asked if the legislators would support a health care bill that cuts reimbursement to providers that serve the elderly, it was no easy answer.

Josephson said that Peterson doesn't support a cut in Minnesota, but that there needs to be an equalization across the board instead.

Eken put it in real terms when he said that while he'd like to say no, one can never say never. He added that he would fight for no cuts, but instead, it might end up being how deep a cut rather than if there will be one or not.

"It is important something is done on the federal level. It needs to be on that level," Marquart said.

Skoe was candid as well, saying the reality is that Minnesota is going to face a deficit. How to fix that is the question. With any cuts, people are going to lose facilities and programs.

"It's serious," he stressed.

"You are our best source of knowledge, I hate to say this, on how we do more with less," he added.

With more and more elderly people staying in their homes longer, what kind of laws are there going to be to protect them from fraud and abuse from those taking care of them?

"That is a good question. I think we're going to be seeing more of that," Eken said of the protection laws.

Marquart agreed that there will have to be a natural progression of laws in this issue as it becomes more and more common.

Skoe, who spoke passionately on the subject, said adults need to have a plan for when their end of life care comes. It shouldn't be left up to someone else to guess what the person would want, but those reaching senior age should make their plans be known instead.

Martin said there is something called the Elder Justice Act, which focuses on monitoring health care providers too, not just family and friends caring for the elderly.