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Pawlenty Touts Minnesota's Lessons On Health Care

Minnesota outgoing Gov. Tim Pawlenty shares a panel with two governors-elect, South Carolina's Nikki Haley (center) and New Mexico's Susana Martinez, at the Republican Governors Association meeting Nov. 17 in San Diego.
Denis Poroy
Minnesota outgoing Gov. Tim Pawlenty shares a panel with two governors-elect, South Carolina's Nikki Haley (center) and New Mexico's Susana Martinez, at the Republican Governors Association meeting Nov. 17 in San Diego.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty gained attention for Minnesota's efforts to rework the health care system. As he considers a run for the Republican presidential nomination, Pawlenty uses examples from his home state to highlight what he sees as flaws in the Democrats' health care plan.

Just last month, Pawlenty joined a lawsuit against President Obama's plan.

As governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty backed a program that puts an emphasis on paying for efficient health care instead of rewarding health facilities that charge for what he calls "endless volumes of procedures."

Even though the Minnesota plan is still in its early stages, "it's extremely promising, and it works," Pawlenty tells Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep.

The state plan works off the premise that health care providers should charge differently -- that they should be paid one price for a basket of services.

The message that such a plan sends to health care providers, Pawlenty says, is that they will profit from being efficient and successful, instead of larding patients' bills with small charges.

"I analogize it to weddings," Pawlenty says. "I say to people, go to two weddings -- go to one with an open bar, where the alcohol and the drinks are free -- and go to one where there's a cash bar. You'll see different behaviors."

Some of the elements of the Minnesota plan are included in a pilot program put forth by the Obama administration in its health care overhaul. Still, Pawlenty is critical of the new law.

"I think what President Obama's proposal is ultimately going to do is, it's going to expand access, but it is going to do nothing to control costs," he says. "And for most Americans, their primary concern about their health care is that it's becoming unaffordable."

Some might argue that Pawlenty's plan can trigger some of the same arguments conservatives have made against the Democrats -- that the attempt to control costs can also restrict peoples' health care options. But the former governor disagrees.

Health care costs for Minnesota's state employees had gotten too high, Pawlenty says.

"So we created a new system," he says. "We said, look, you can go anywhere you want. But if you choose to go somewhere that's really expensive, with poor results, you're paying more. And if you choose to go somewhere that has better results, and is more efficient, you will pay less."

Republicans in the House are expected to vote to repeal Obama's health care plan. But even if they succeed in doing so, the repeal isn't likely to go very far -- after all, Democrats still control the Senate, and the presidency.

Asked to name a positive goal that Congress might strive for, Pawlenty says: "Payment reform. Stop paying for volumes of procedures, and start paying in part for better outcomes."

Many observers are expecting Pawlenty to make a run at the Republican presidential nomination. Asked about that possibility, he says, "I am considering running in 2012, but I won't make that decision until probably later this quarter, or early next quarter."

If it's any indication, Pawlenty has just released a new biography, Courage to Stand: An American Story. In it, he recounts how he went from being the son of a truck driver in Minnesota to governor -- and possibly a presidential candidate.

Asked about a potential national campaign, Pawlenty admits he would need to start early, to build his name recognition with voters. And he says he'll be asking his wife, Mary, for advice about what to do.

But Pawlenty wouldn't say whether his wife favors a run for the White House.

"She's a loving and encouraging spouse, no matter what I do," he says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff