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FOR TED MONDALE, ALL THE HEALTH CARE issues that come up on the state level take a back seat to one overriding concern:
Mondale: The biggest unmet health care need in this state is senior citizens and pharmaceutical costs.Mondale is promising to have the state help pay for the elderly's pills. Under his plan, the 100,000 poorest seniors would have to pay only an $8 co-payment every time they have a prescription filled, and the state would pick up the rest. Higher-income individuals could also buy into the program. It's an expensive proposition - Mondale estimates the annual price tag at about $150 million. But it's a campaign promise that could yield him big returns in September. Senior citizens tend to vote - even in low-turnout primary elections - and the issue of rising drug prices is a hot-button issue for them. Peter Wyckoff, the executive director of the Metro-area Senior Federation, says he's glad Mondale is paying attention to prescription drugs, but he says Mondale's interest in the issue seems to be a recent development.
Wyckoff: We wish he'd been more active in drug-price reform issues when he was a state senator, but we applaud his efforts in this area. It is a real need, and for that he needs to be applauded.Wyckoff calls Mondale's current proposal a short-term solution. He says he worries about the state giving the drug companies what he calls a "blank check," and he says the state will still have to find a way to control the cost of drugs.
For the time being, Mondale wants to use the state's recent multi-billion dollar settlement with the tobacco industry to pay for the prescription drugs. He says the drugs would use up about 60 percent of the settlement.
As to the rest of the tobacco money, he says the state should be careful not to pour too much of it into the hands of well-meaning anti-smoking groups:
Mondale: Let's not just deal this money out to every little group like a deck of cards. Let's make a real difference in people's lives, and I think focusing on crime and violence, and focusing on senior pharmacy costs are the two biggest areas where we need to move.Mondale says he'd put tobacco money into anti-crime programs because he sees violence as a preventable public health problem. When asked about the unmet health care needs of Minnesota's low-income population, Mondale says the solution is a program that already exists - MinnesotaCare, which offers subsidized health insurance. Mondale says the state has to do a better job of letting people know MinnesotaCare exists.
Mondale: Think about this: there's a $700,000 marketing budget, and we know that people who don't get health care from their employers look in the Yellow Pages. And I don't think there's a Yellow Pages in the state that has MinnesotaCare in it. It's dis-enrolling people faster than it's enrolling people - surpluses. The program is there to ensure working families with kids have care. The problem is the government agency can't do it.Mondale says he'd consider turning MinnesotaCare over to the private sector if the state doesn't do a better job getting people to use it.
When it comes to this election year's hottest health care topic - HMOs - Mondale has less to say. His DFL rivals have been capitalizing on the perception that HMOs are too powerful and unresponsive by proposing new consumer-protection rules. Mondale, who does contract work for United Health Care, takes more of a cautious attitude. He says he wants to give new HMO regulations time to take effect. If they don't fix the system, he says the state should then give consumers more power to shop around for better health plans. He says he wouldn't rule out repealing the state law requiring HMOs and hospitals to be non-profits, because he says for-profit HMOs might offer Minnesota consumers a wider array of choices.