More than 50 members of the next generation of health providers and professionals gathered in Bloomington March 11 to talk about the future of health care in Minnesota.

The diverse group of students came from schools across the Twin Cities and included those studying to be physicians, chiropractors, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and others. The forum was sponsored by the host, Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, and Minnesota HealthBasics, a collaboration of leaders from Medica, TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council and North Memorial Health Care.

The starting point for the conversation was research conducted by HealthBasics. A HealthBasics’ statewide survey found that Minnesotans have high expectations of the health care system, but are reluctant to adopt solutions that might limit their choices. For example, 52 percent of Minnesotans believe that doctors often order too many tests and treatments that don’t improve a patient’s health and 41 percent say that health insurers should work with medical professionals to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments, then only pay for those that are most successful in improving the health of patients.

However, two-thirds of Minnesotans say that insurers should pay for every service or treatment that a doctor orders.

Minnesotans are deeply divided along ideological lines on the future of the health care system. About one-third of Minnesotans – 34 percent – believe Minnesota would be best served by a health care system shaped by a competitive marketplace. A nearly equal number – 33 percent – favor a government-sponsored system.

The future health professionals at the March 11 forum favored a marketplace system with both more choices and greater responsibility for consumers. The students argued that a more open marketplace will drive down costs. One chiropractic student offered an example of marketplace competition: “Dentists, who have more flexibility to set their own prices, force competitors to drive down costs. If it costs me $200 for a teeth cleaning at one dentist, but only $100 at another, that person charging $200 is forced to reduce costs or go out of business.”

The government isn’t off the hook, though, according to this group. The future health providers and professionals believe it is the government’s responsibility to make clear, transparent data on cost, nutrition, evidence-based health services and prevention measures easily accessible for patients and prospective patients. It’s up to consumers to act on the information.

There was also a strong sentiment among the forum participants for integrated clinics that offer more specialty care and alternative health services. The students argued that integrated clinics provide a more comprehensive approach to a person’s and lead to better diagnoses and treatment plans. Acupuncture and chiropractic students said it is sometimes difficult to get insurance companies to cover their care, despite low costs and the potential to save the patient from higher-risk procedures or treatment options. Integrated care centers would make it easier to incorporate alternative treatment options into a patient’s care, the students said.

Perhaps the most important cost saving measure, according to the forum attendees, was an increased focus on preventive care. Students argue that making services like nutritional education, smoking cessation and exercise programs more available will reduce the rates of many preventable disease. A report in Trust for American’s Health supports the case for preventive care, claiming that Minnesota could save $316 million in health costs over the next five years through investments in preventive health.

The Bloomington forum is just one of several HealthBasics is sponsoring around the state. Presentations have engaged chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs and other organizations in discussing the values and priorities Minnesotans bring to health care.

Robert Longendyke, Medica senior vice president, said the insurer is sponsoring HealthBasics and hosting forums to encourage conversations about health reform that move beyond politics. “In order to improve the health care system in Minnesota we need to find consensus on reforms that unite us instead of spending time on what divides us,” said Longendyke. “We won’t solve all of the huge issues in health care in any single forum, but by listening and sharing ideas, we can find where there is common ground and where consumers, the health care industry and policy makers can join in creating good solutions.”

More information about HealthBasics is available at www.mnhealthabsics.com. Those interested in hosting forums can get more information by contacting HealthBasics at mnhealthbasics@gmail.com.