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Jeers to county budget process, cheers to health price Web site

Cheers to Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his approach to health care.

One of the reasons health care costs continue to rise so quickly is that it's very difficult to compare costs between competitors: It's hard for consumers to shop around.

But now Minnesotans can go to a Web site to get an idea about how much health-care providers charge for some services.

You can find prices for 100 of the most common health services on the Minnesota Community Measurement Web site.

Average clinic prices can be found online at

More concerned about quality? You can check out the same site: Quality ratings have been posted there since 2004.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the information will help Minnesotans be better health consumers, and thus will force down health-care prices.

Not knowing how much a service will cost "is a great frustration," the governor said. "If they have that kind of information, they can begin to make good decisions."

Jim Chase, president of the group that runs the Web site, said that prices of more than 110 clinics are on the site, obtained through insurance documents.

"This is the first step," Chase told our St. Paul bureau chief, Don Davis.


Jeers to the Becker County Board for its blind adherence to a state levy cap that is essentially meaningless.

After receiving revised information on the state's levy limit, the board is looking to cut another $55,000 from an already-strained budget for next year. That's in order to meet the state's decree limiting levy increases to 1.38 percent.

The county is feeling the pain from big state aid cuts -- totaling more than $750,000 over the last two years. But spare us the angst -- the state has given the county authority to levy all that back at its discretion.

We're not saying the county should go hog wild on the levy, but there's no reason to starve essential services, either.

If the county is going to end up paying a lot more down the road for highways that weren't properly maintained or criminal activity that could have been averted, then it makes sense to raise the levy a little more and take care of business.

The county could levy for the entire $751,000 that was "unallotted" by the state over the last two years and it would only amount to a 4.4 percent levy hike.

Commissioners need to find a happy medium that will let the highway department seal-coat roads on a timely basis and allow the sheriff's department to put out a full patrol crew. And they should be planning ahead to take care of the county's neediest residents, since a big loss of state funding for the human services department is on the horizon.