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Moveon.org says Conrad should support public health care option

Worried about health care for her two adult sons, Sandy Kulund joined local Moveon.org leaders Friday in a rally at Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad's office in Grand Forks.

Worried about health care for her two adult sons, Sandy Kulund joined local Moveon.org leaders Friday in a rally at Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad's office in Grand Forks.

The Grand Forks Air Force Base woman has a 40-year-old son with leukemia who had his insurance dropped.

"Cigna purged him," she said. "They said they were reorganizing individual policies."

After a five-month battle, Kulund said, her son was accepted for Medicaid, which paid for a stem-cell transplant. "But Medicaid limits how much money you can earn, so this is a dilemma, too," she said.

"Insurance companies aren't adding anyone who has cancer. The public option would allow him to enroll and be covered."

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Another son, who is self-employed, experienced a 20 percent hike in his insurance premiums this year, she said.

The Moveon.org goal Friday was to refute Conrad's reasoning for not favoring a public option of health insurance. Last week, Conrad said that local North Dakota hospitals would suffer, and perhaps go broke, because a public option plan would be tied to Medicare levels of reimbursement.

Moveon.org, a liberal organization that usually aligns with Democrats, countered Conrad's argument with a study that says North Dakotans would benefit from such a plan. Its case for the public option included:

- As many as 18,500 small businesses in the state would qualify for tax credits as much as 50 percent of the costs of providing health insurance.

- Almost 14,000 seniors would receive relief from hitting the so-called doughnut hole and being forced to pay their full drug costs.

- With an annual out-of-pocket limit of $10,000, it would cut back on health-related bankruptcies. The state had 570 such bankruptcies last year.

- The number of uninsured individuals in the state would go from 74,000 to 16,000, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

- It would provide the state's hospitals more -- not less -- reimbursement.

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- The public plan would be paid for by making Medicare and Medicaid more efficient and through a surtax on the income of the wealthiest individuals. The surtax would affect only 2,000 households in the state, the study said.

- It would be more affordable, with estimates that premiums would be 10 percent lower.

In a statement, Conrad said a cooperative proposal is a better option than the public plan.

"The co-op proposal represents a true public interest option," he said. "These co-ops would be not-for-profit organizations controlled by their members that would provide affordable health care to families, individuals and small businesses.

"The cooperatives would provide a not-for-profit insurance competitor to the current for-profit insurance companies dominating the industry today."

Conrad's other argument is that the public option is too divisive and isn't able to get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. But the four visitors to Conrad's office disagreed.

"The public option is far from dead," Robert Haider said. "This issue still has a long, long way to go."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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