Obama's health care speech: Why Minnesota?

President Obama
President Obama speaks at a health care town hall forum in Colorado on Aug. 15. He will hold a similar event in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon.
AP photo

President Obama laid out more details of his health care plan in his speech last night before a joint session of Congress. And the president will continue his push with a rally at the Target Center in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon.

The reasons for choosing Minnesota run from the political to the state's success in delivering low cost, high quality care. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., said Obama's visit is meant to showcase the state's health care system, including the Mayo Clinic.

"He continues to use Minnesota as a paragon of how you can do things right," said Klobuchar. "He stood before the country and said, 'Why should Minnesota be punished because it offers high-quality, lower cost care?' I think it's only appropriate that he comes to Minnesota."

Just because Klobuchar is welcoming the president's visit doesn't mean she's backing every element of his plan.

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Klobuchar won't commit to voting for a bill that would create a public insurance plan, which Obama says would create competition within the health care marketplace.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a DFLer who represents Minnesota's 4th Congressional District, said the state's own public option, MinnesotaCare, should also be highlighted in Obama's speech.

That program provides state subsidized health insurance to 114,000 low-income Minnesotans who don't have other health insurance options. It's funded by a tax on doctors, hospitals, clinics and other health care providers.

McCollum said MinnesotaCare is a good example of how a public option works.

"Minnesota has proven that when states really want to move forward, we can figure out a way in which insurance is available to families that's affordable, which is MinnesotaCare," said McCollum. "And that's very similar to the public option that's being discussed in Congress."

Steven Smith, a political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said Obama will likely travel to many states to try to build support for the plan, which has many complex parts.

"Most of these pieces have to be there to make sense to anyone. And because there's a little bit of opposition to strong opposition to virtually every element of this, it's a very, very tricky coalition building process," said Smith.

Former Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger, who chairs the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas, said it's time for Congress to address access to health care and the cost of care. But he said it will have to be done with Democratic votes.

Durenberger said some lawmakers have to urge the White House and Congressional leaders to rein in costs.

"There are a lot of conservative or centrist Democrats like Collin Peterson, like Tim Walz -- and they are in a lot of parts in the country, including the rural parts of the country -- who can speak to payment change and rewarding high value," said Durenberger.

Rep. Walz, who represents Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, said he'd like to see the president do just that. He said he wants an explanation on how the president's plan will help those who already have health coverage.

"What happens to the person whose got a job and is working, and insurance is pretty expensive and they're nervous about it," said Walz. "What guarantees do they have that this is going to impact them in a positive way?"

An official with Walz' office says the congressman is unlikely to attend the president's speech in Minneapolis on Saturday, because he's holding his own health care forum in Rochester.

Two Republican members of the state's delegation will also talk health care this week. Third District Rep. Erik Paulsen will hold a town hall forum on Friday, and 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann has a forum scheduled for Saturday.