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Candidates host health care roundtable at Oak Hills

NEW ULM — Congressman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz and congressional candidate Dan Feehan hosted a healthcare roundtable at Oak Hills Living Center.

Health care experts from around the district joined Walz and Feehan to discuss what is working and what is not working in Minnesota’s health care system.

One of the top problems discussed was the low compensation for health care workers.

Experts in the pharmaceutical and dental business said the reimbursement rates were low. Carmen Broste, the Director of Nursing at Oak Hills, said those working in elderly care work very hard but could work for a fast food restaurant and receive a higher wage.

Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz said often public heath nurse positions go unfilled because they are unable to offer competitive pay.

Dentist Dr. Mike Flynn said Minnesota ranks number one in oral health care in the nation, but like the pharmacies, low reimbursement is a problem. Flynn said Minnesota ranks among the last in reimbursement for oral health care.

“We as professionals are still working on a 1989 fee schedule,” he said. “We’ve done our job — all we need is the right tools to get the job done. We can’t run a business without the cash flow.”

Medical Coordinator at Oak Hills, Deb Webster, suggested partnerships with schools as a method to grow the workforce. Creating a trade school to teach caregiving could help fill open positions. She also encourage restrictions on mechanical lifts be changed. The restriction requires an 18 year-old to use them, which causes problems during the afternoon shifts as there is only one employee old enough, forcing her to accompany every lift or stand.

Rural providers have the added challenge of competing against larger providers. Tim Gallagher works with an independent pharmacy, but the larger pharmacies are able to squeeze out them out.

“I’d like to see Minnesota become a brick and mortar state for Medicaid,” he said “Right now all Medicaid specialty prescriptions are sent out of state.”

Right now state tax dollars go to send prescriptions to Nevada or Florida. A brick or mortar law would require a company to have a building in Minnesota in order to fill a prescription. The Wholesale Drug Distributor tax puts every health care providers at a disadvantage.

Brown County Commissioner Scott Windschitl advocated for County Based Purchasing, which is the method of delivering Medicare, Medicaid and MNCare to people in need. Windschitl said the County Based Purchasing also provides other services for mental illness. Early intervention with mental health patients prevents further expenses longterm on emergency mental health call and reduces the county’s tax levy.

Health care coordinators at the hospital help schedule those who frequently use the emergency room and move them into a more appropriate setting. This also reduces county expenses.

Moritz also favored the County Based Purchasing as a reduction of hospital visits.

Windschitl said there were problems with the state delaying health care payments to the county in July. The state has alerted the county next year the delay will be extended two months. Windschitl said Brown County cannot afford to float the State two months worth of health care payments.

Feehan asked the reason the state did this, but Windschitl said no reason was given. It was suggested the state was shifting the cost into the next fiscal year by putting payments on the next year.

“We shouldn’t have to battle our own state agency,” Windschitl said.

Transparency was cited as a necessary part of fixing health care. The idea is to allow people to see how health care dollars are spent and whether is being used efficiently and for the intended purpose.

Walz said the issue of transparency is not partisan. Both he and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson agree transparency is needed to determine who is paying for which services. Walz said many of these problems will not be fixe without transparency.

Another issues facing Minnesota is growing mental health needs. Of the 87 counties in Minnesota only Olmsted, home of the Mayo Clinic, was meeting the needs in terms of the number of psychiatrists.

Collaboration between agencies was cited as top method of solving the mental health crisis. Through collaborations, public health or even social services could provide intervention for serious cases.

Walz said the positive side to election campaigns is they can be used a platform to lift up issues like health care in a non-partisan way.

Prior to the heath care roundtable, Walz and Feehan were meeting with farm families. He said the Farm Bill and Tariffs were top issues, but farmers will also bring up health care. It is a subject that impacts all citizens.

Feehan said the perspective of health care experts was important, because when they execute policy it is a matter of life and death. He wants to create a partnership with the experts and legislators.

“A year on the campaign trail has told me that in rural health care the status quo isn’t working,” Feehan said. “At the same time moving backward isn’t an option.”

Walz said he hopes the country has come to understand it is morally the right thing to do to provide care to people and economically the right thing to do to keep people healthy and in their homes.

“There is no easy solution, but there are solutions,” Walz said. He believed the country was fed up with the old talking points and ready to have a better discussion on health care.

Feehan said he would advocate for partnerships between health care experts.

“The United States can have the best military in the world, the best agriculture in the world and can have the best health care in the world,” Feehan said “but those first two didn’t happen by accident. They happened with heavy investment and collaboration.”

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