By Frank Lee, St. Cloud Times

A task force of state legislators and health care officials heard on Monday a summary of suggestions offered by Minnesotans on how to improve health care in the state.

The Minnesota Health Care Reform Task Force sought ways to maintain and improve health during the meeting at Le St-Germain Suite Hotel in St. Cloud.

“The success or failure of policy often depends on how the proposals resonate with the values and priorities of citizens,” said C. Scott Cooper of the Bush Foundation.

Minnesotans have a much broader view of health and health care than they are often given credit for, and they understand the shared responsibilities they have in leading healthier lives but also want access to more affordable health care, according to the findings.

“The overarching theme was clear: Participants want the opportunity to be partners in a system that builds health and not be limited by the health care system alone,” said Sean Kershaw of the Citizens League.

Key principles

Monday’s presentation included guiding principles for the task force: empowerment to assume a greater role in health, an affordable health care system and environments that support healthy choices.

“We were charged primarily with learning what Minnesotans perceive as the barriers and gaps in the current health and health care system based on their own life experiences,” Cooper told state Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

The Bush Foundation funded the four-month project, and the Citizens League helped gather public input, which focused on “solutions and consensus building,” according to the organizers.

“One of the biggest concerns we’ve had is how do we provide the funding for some of these things if we’re expanding (Medical Assistance) benefits … or Medicaid in Minnesota,” said Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud.

Among the report’s findings are that participants believe health is not solely defined or controlled by the health care system but is also significantly impacted by where one lives, the resources one has access to and overall community norms. It finds that participants are willing to take more responsibility in leading healthier lives, but they want access to more affordable health care.

“This was not an effort to test specific recommendations against each other so much as to dive into what Minnesotans’ fundamental values and priorities were around health and the health care system,” Kershaw told the task force.

Citizen Solutions

The task force will develop recommendations known as “Citizen Solutions.”

“We were not asking people to make policy recommendations. That is not the area of expertise of average citizens, and it would be unfair to ask them to do that,” Cooper said of the input gathered from April to July.

Working with organizations ranging from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to TakeAction Minnesota, Citizen Solutions received direct input from almost 1,100 Minnesotans in more than 40 community, employer and organization constituency meetings. The research also included an online discussion with more than 4,000 participants.

These “community conversations” engaged those of different ages, political persuasions and personal perspectives. Participants were recruited and supported by a growing network of organizations outside of traditional health policy networks.

Jim Towler is a St. Cloud resident active in ISAIAH, a group that engages congregations in conversations about health and health reform. The retired pastor attended a Citizen Solutions meeting in St. Cloud earlier and testified Monday.

“We, as a people, expect good health,” Towler said. “We understand this is a part of the justice that surrounds our lives, whether it comes through our traditions of faith or comes through our traditions of democracy … so we have to find ways to engage people in this process.”

A polling firm will conduct a statewide, scientific survey to determine if the public at-large agrees with Citizen Solutions’ findings. It will present results prior to the start of the 2013 legislative session to the task force, the governor and the state Legislature.

More about Citizen Solutions

Citizen Solutions is an effort to engage Minnesotans in a conversation about what’s important to the future of health and health care in the state.

The results will guide the policy proposals of the Minnesota Health Care Reform Task Force.

Based on the findings, three key principals for action are being recommended to the task force:

* Empower Minnesotans to be co-creators and co-managers of their health. That empowerment should include a balance of rights and responsibilities.

* Equip Minnesotans to make healthy choices within the health care system. Barriers within that system include access, affordability, nonpersonalized care and a culture of treatment, rather than proactive management for health and wellness.

* Encourage the redesign of institutions and the creation of environments that help make available and reinforce healthy daily choices. The cornerstone of that effort should be based upon access, affordability and better, more accurate information.

For more information about the task force, visit To read the final Citizen Solutions report, “Public Conversations & Public Solutions: Making Health and Health Care Better in Minnesota,” visit