Legislators field health care questions at Saturday forum in Willmar
WILLMAR — Health care was the main topic when two area legislators met with constituents in downtown Willmar Saturday morning.
State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, and Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, spoke with about 30 people at The Goodness Coffee House.
They provided an update on the 2017 legislative session,which included funding for a children's mental health facility in Willmar, increased funding for public schools and tax relief.
But when they opened the forum for questions, health care took over, with questions about health insurance premiums and drug costs. Baker and Lang agreed federal health care discussions have caused uncertainty. They did offer some ideas for state actions.
During the 2017 session, the Legislature passed a relief plan for residents whose health insurance premiums had shot up more than 25 percent.
States may have more control over health care regulations and plans in the future, Baker said.
"Everybody knows it has to change, but we can't just end it," he said of the federal Affordable Care Act. "It's a lot of work, and there are no simple answers."
Health care is the fastest growing part of the budget and the state's options to control it are limited, Lang said.
If a repeal of the ACA is adopted, "I think Minnesota would be OK; I think we would come up with a plan that would work," Lang said. "I don't know about other states."
One man, who's had a heart transplant, said the price of his daily medication had increased rapidly in recent months, and he couldn't get an explanation from the drug company.
"We need to find a way to make things more transparent," Baker said, adding he's experienced similar situations. He offered to sit with the man when he calls the drug company.
Baker said the Legislature is asking many questions about how prices are determined, as "everybody along the way (in the system) gets a cut; we've got to follow the money on this one."
One man complained about regulations and about people using health care who had "never had to pay out of their own pocket" and were "too lazy" to work.
"Some people can't help themselves," Baker said. "I'm OK with helping those people."
While there may be some people who could go to work, Lang said, not all can. "I think we are a compassionate society as a whole."
Everyone wants and needs health care, but "it's very expensive, no matter what we do," he added.
A woman who had been a nurse at Rice Memorial Hospital for 38 years asked if they are following talks that could lead to Rice being affiliated with CentraCare. "We have real concerns what it means for our patients, our community and the employees," she said.
Baker said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the talks will lead to a good outcome. "Let me know if you see issues we should be talking to them about," he told her.
Immigration came up when a man asked if the legislators could do anything to support Melvin Siu, an undocumented immigrant who was arrested in Willmar a few weeks ago.
Siu has children who are U.S. citizens and has said he fears for his life if returned to his native Guatemala. He reportedly has no criminal record and has been a member of the Willmar community for a decade.
Immigration is a federal issue, Baker said, but he said he wanted to learn more about the situation and may be able to make calls or write a letter of support. "There's no easy answer," he said. "We've got to find a way to make these people legal."
Lang said the process of gaining legal residents is long, difficult and expensive. He, too, said it would be good to find a way to help someone who was a productive member of the community.