Franken Open House

There were already a good number of people there. I brought questions I wanted to ask the senator, including a couple from the FDL community. I walked around in the office a bit and noticed several staffers standing around, ready to talk with constituents. I asked where the senator was and was told he’s running late and hadn’t arrived at his office yet. I wasn’t going to be able to hang around for 4 hours waiting for him to get there (I had to get back to my job), so I went to plan B and spoke with one of his field representatives.

Note: I’ve been keeping after Al on health care and the public option. I’m glad he signed on to Sen. Michael Bennet’s letter. Here’s an email reply I received that explains Franken’s thoughts in detail:

February 17, 2010

Dear Tom,

Thank you for contacting me about health reform. I appreciate you sharing your views on this issue of critical importance to Minnesota and the nation.

Today, too many Minnesota families are burdened with high health care costs, and are afraid of losing the coverage they have. Premiums for Minnesota residents have risen 90 percent since 2000, and 444,000 Minnesotans went without health insurance in 2008. If we don’t act now, Minnesota families will pay an average of 40 percent of their annual income in health care costs by 2016. This path is unsustainable.

When I travel around the state, Minnesotans ask three basic questions. How are we going to bring down the cost of health insurance? What happens if one of my kids has a pre-existing condition, and I lose my job, or want to switch to a better job? If something bad happens to my family, are we going to have to sell the house or go bankrupt trying to pay off the medical bills? These questions represent the real problems with our health care system, and any proposals to reform it must directly address these concerns for Minnesota families. I proudly voted for H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, because it would do just that. This landmark legislation would put the brakes on skyrocketing health care costs, guarantee coverage and care when you need it, make it easier to shop for health plans, and focus more on prevention to keep us all healthier.

On December 24, 2009 we passed the Senate health reform bill. The Senate bill is the best vehicle we have and I believe the House should pass this legislation so we can get a final bill to the President’s desk as soon as possible. I am now working with my colleagues in both chambers of Congress to "pledge and pass." What this means is that if we in the Senate pledge to fix certain elements through a budget process that requires only 51 votes, the House of Representatives should pass the Senate bill. I’d like to share with you some of the strengths of the Senate health reform bill, and why I think it’s the best path forward.

First and foremost, health reform would bring a new level of security to your health insurance. Six months after the bill becomes law, health insurance companies would no longer be allowed to deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition, or impose lifetime caps on anyone’s benefits. Right away, small businesses would also be eligible for tax credits of up to 35% of their employees’ premiums, making employee coverage more affordable.

Then in 2014, many more benefits would kick in. Insurance companies would be prohibited from placing annual limits on benefits. No one would be denied coverage or charged more for preexisting conditions. In 2014, Minnesotans and small businesses without insurance would also be able to buy a high-quality plan through the health insurance exchange, which would be like a Travelocity for health insurance. For families who are having trouble making ends meet, there would be subsidies to purchase exchange plans, similar to the current MinnesotaCare program. This means that Minnesotans would be able to change jobs without worrying about health insurance, and bankruptcy from medical bills would be a thing of the past.

One of the most important things we can do for all Minnesotans is to bring down the cost of health care, and paying providers for high-value health care is one of the best ways to slow the growing cost of health care. To this end, I advocated for the Senate health reform bill to incorporate a "value index" into the Medicare payment structure. This incentive would reward Minnesota doctors for providing high quality care at a reasonable cost, and help move the rest of the country in the same direction. I’m pleased that this critical reform is in the Senate bill, along with a requirement that every insurer use a standard form for billing and claims, like we do in Minnesota. This would reduce errors and allow providers to spend more time with patients, and less time on paperwork.

Although I’m disappointed that the public option will likely not be in the final health reform bill, I championed a provision in the Senate health reform bill to hold insurance companies accountable for patients, and reign in profits. The provision would kick in right away and ensure that a higher percentage of every premium dollar is spent on actual health care, not wasteful administrative costs and profits. This was inspired by Minnesota’s non-profit health system and would help control skyrocketing health care costs.

Also beginning in 2010, health reform would strengthen Medicare for Minnesota seniors. Medicare beneficiaries would get a free wellness visit every year. The bill would also shrink the so-called "donut hole" in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, and prevent the scheduled cut in Medicare payments to physicians. It’s important to know that health reform would not cut benefits for seniors – a protection that I proudly voted for. In fact, the bill would create savings to extend Medicare’s Trust Fund solvency for nine additional years through cost-saving measures to improve quality and care coordination.

The bill will also increase access to preventive services for those who are not yet in the Medicare program. Six months after we pass the bill, you would able to get prevention and wellness benefits without worrying about co-pays or deductibles. I believe this focus on prevention is one of the best ways to lower health care costs and become a healthier nation. That is why I also worked to have the Diabetes Prevention Act of 2009 (S. 2734) included in the Senate health reform bill. This bipartisan legislation builds on diabetes prevention efforts already underway in Minnesota, and would help the 57 million Americans with pre-diabetes eat healthier and become more physically active. This would save lives and money, in Minnesota and across the country.

Prevention, strengthening Medicare, incentives for quality, and affordable coverage – I hope you agree that all together, health reform would answer the most pressing questions that Minnesotans have about their health care. I am working everyday to get the bill to the President’s desk so Minnesotans can begin to access these benefits without further delay. Please be assured I will keep your thoughts in mind throughout this process.

Thanks again for contacting me, and please don’t hesitate to do so in the future regarding this or any other matter of concern to you.


Al Franken

My questions were:

1. Why not pass the Senate fixes to the Senate reform bill first, and then have the House pass the Senate bill? As I understand it, the House doesn’t have a lot of trust in the Senate.

2. When will the government have the ability to negotiate drug prices?

3. Does the Senate health reform bill stop health insurance companies from preemptively skyrocketing our premiums before 2014, like Anthem is doing in California?

4. What are you doing to combat the deceptive propaganda put out by Frank Luntz? Have you contacted either Dr. Drew Westen or Dr. George Lakoff? Democrats in Congress need to learn how to reframe questions that use Frank Luntz’s false framing. We need to hear the progressive framing of issues.

The field rep I spoke with took my questions but couldn’t answer my health reform questions. He pointed to the staffer whose forte is health care policy. She was sitting in an office talking with a couple senior citizens. So, I moved on to my last question and asked him about Frank Luntz. Chock it up to youth I guess–the field rep hadn’t heard of Luntz (but at least he was familiar with I explained who Luntz was, the guy who came up with "death tax" and "tax relief" (as if our patriotic responsibility of preserving our country’s common wealth is some kind of affliction), and how Luntz had attended Obama’s Q&A with Republicans, practically at the front table. I gave the rep a copy of Luntz’s latest dirty deed "The Language of Financial Reform" and explained how Dems cannot win when they go on tv and argue inside their opponents frame (i.e. Do you still beat your wife?).

Cassiodorus from the FDL community wondered why Al supports the LEARN Act. So, I printed out Susan Ohanian’s piece from The Huffington Post, gave it to the rep and said the senator should look at the questions raised in the piece and see what he thinks about it.

I read off DavidD’s comment to the rep about the senate health care bill, as I thought it represents how a lot of Americans are feeling about the health care situation right now. The rep listened, but didn’t have much to say.

I stayed at the open house for about a half hour and then drove back to my work. The rep had taken down my information and plans to get back to me with answers to my questions. I’ll write again when I learn more.

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