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Mila Koumpilova, Published July 02 2009

Conrad touts national healthcare reform proposal during Fargo roundtable

FARGO - U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad called national healthcare reform a nonnegotiable necessity and pitched his idea for healthcare cooperatives at a roundtable today with Fargo healthcare leaders.

“Doing nothing is not an option,” said Conrad at the roundtable, hosted by MeritCare. “Sitting around and, you know, ‘Woe is me,’ won’t do anything.”

Conrad is a key player in tough healthcare reform negotiations because of his chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee and membership in the Senate Finance Committee.

The Democratic senator from North Dakota is on a two-day series of roundtables across the state aimed at drumming up support for healthcare reform in general and his co-op proposal in particular. Conrad is advocating for the co-ops as a private, nonprofit alternative to a public health insurance option, the most divisive ingredient of Democratic reform proposals.

Tagging along with Conrad is Dr. Mary Wakefield, a North Dakota native and influential official in the Obama administration.

Conrad spoke of the 76-percent healthcare cost increase the average North Dakota family is projected to see by 2016 and of the rising number of small businesses in the state that cannot afford to offer health coverage.

The co-ops, which some critics have described as a copout with too little clout to bring down private insurance costs, Conrad lauded as a viable way to break the impasse in Congressional negotiations.

Without endorsing Conrad’s plan, Wakefield commended him for his constructive approach and willingness to reach across party lines.

Roger Gilbertson, president and CEO of the MeritCare Health System, Innovis CAO Kevin Pitzer, Patricia Patron of the Family HealthCare Center and others spoke at the roundtable.

For more details, read tomorrow’s edition of The Forum