The shuttle van departing the Minneapolis airport for Rochester and La Crosse was packed when we returned from a trip to Colorado recently — seating that made the airplane accommodations look spacious.
Gretchen and I took the last vacant seats, hers next to the door and mine on the back bench where I found myself shoulder to shoulder with the tall guy in a business suit whom I had noticed in the waiting area. I was wearing my hiking boots and outdoor duds, which might have led to the discovery we made before we got to the freeway that we had both climbed some of the same mountains in Colorado. The conversation flowed easily from that beginning.
He was headed to a meeting the next day in Rochester. His company manufactures medical devices, so our conversation turned to health care and it became apparently fairly quickly that we were less compatible on that topic than on mountain climbing.
He was not a fan of the Affordable Care Act, although he did credit Obamacare for having raised the awareness of cost as a key issue. He said he made a point of questioning the medical providers he visits to determine their awareness of their costs. He regularly finds them wanting in this.
“You knew exactly down to the square foot what your newsprint costs were,” he said, referring to my having identified myself as being retired from the newspaper business.
I gestured toward where Gretchen, my partner in business, was sitting. “Well, she did,” I said.
He smiled at that and then acknowledged my comment that the VA had controlled drug costs by negotiating with suppliers. But when I cited that as a model for single-payer health care and cited The New York Times for some supporting information, he was dismissive of such liberal sources.
So I asked him what his solution would be, which set him off on a tour de force commentary on what may come in health care.
He said that due to the costs imposed by Obamacare, his company has discontinued its health insurance plan for employees, opting instead to contribute to health savings accounts.
He predicted that the solution to the health care problems in America would come not from government, but from the private sector. He believes that will happen without the insurance sector, which he said only drained off some 30 percent of the revenue in management costs without adding value. He further predicted the success of the efforts of the major medical centers in the nation with their emphasis on keeping people healthy, thus avoiding the devastating costs now experienced in treating chronic diseases such as diabetes.
These will be exciting times in health care, he said as we said goodbye in Rochester, where we switched to another van and he headed for his hotel. “You’re a writer. Write about it.”
So I have, although, on reflection, the lessons I learned in the relatively short drive from Minneapolis to Rochester have more to do with the value of talking with people with views that might be contrary to your own. I have no doubt that we would, in a longer conversation, find many areas where our interests and beliefs would coincide. He had mentioned, parenthetically, after all, that the country needs stronger gun controls. And I bet we’d find common ground on the virtues of climbing mountains.