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Doug Johnson: Health Care
By Amy Radil
August 20, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
Part of Election '98

CONSUMER DISSATISFACTION WITH MANAGED HEALTHCARE is shaping up to be a central issue in national elections this fall. Voters are complaining that managed care bureaucracies are unfairly restricting care, and candidates are promising more consumer protections. Politicians in statewide races are also trying to show their sympathy with voters' health-care concerns. Doug Johnson cautiously endorses the idea of for-profit HMOs in Minnesota, if they would give patients more options.

Johnson: You know, I'm really torn about what's happening in Minnesota with the non-profit HMOs and whether there should be competition. I'm leaning now towards getting more competition into the healthcare industry in the state. Particularly, what's happening with HMOs in Minnesota, I'm finding that more and more folks, when they go to the doctor, are being denied coverage, denied choices, in healthcare.
But what really concerns Johnson is the state's aging population and the consequences that demographic shift will have for senior citizens, their families, and the healthcare infrastructure. According to state demographers, between now and the year 2025, the number of people over the age of 70 in Minnesota will increase almost 60 percent. Johnson says in taking care of his own mother, he concluded nursing homes aren't the ideal settings for elderly people. He wants to help senior citizens live in their own homes or with people they know.
Johnson: There's a huge issue looming on the horizon that not much attention has been given to, and that's the issue of long-term care. We have an aging population. We're going to have less taxpayers paying the bill, so I have a plan that's being put together. It was part of the Senate tax bill in the 1998 session, where the state Department of Human Services and Department of Revenue is developing a tax credit proposal to help senior citizens stay out of the nursing homes.
But Johnson is critical of fellow candidate Ted Mondale's proposal to have Minnesota pay for more senior citizen's medical prescriptions. Mondale has advocated using money from the state's tobacco settlement to create a prescription trust fund. Johnson says that's just letting the federal government off the hook.
Johnson: Rather than Minnesota using tobacco settlement moneys for that, I think we should go to Washington and have Minnesota senior citizens treated like seniors in Florida, where prescriptions are covered by health insurance agencies that administer Medicare money.
Johnson advocates using part of the settlement funds for medical research at places like the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota. He says another portion should be used to cut the health-care tax that funds MinnesotaCare.
Johnson: With the tobacco settlement, the first thing I'd do is eliminate the unfair, unfriendly healthcare tax called the "provider tax." It's now at 1.5 percent, scheduled to go to 2 percent. Anytime you go to a clinic, there's a hidden tax applied - the provider tax - I call it the "sick tax," and I want to get rid of that, and I think there's sufficient money to expand coverage for the uninsured.
Johnson estimates the taxbreak would total $326 million, and he says he would install a tough commerce commissioner who would make sure insurance companies pass on the savings to consumers.
Johnson: You are paying that tax as a consumer now. Could I guarantee that you would not be? I think there'd be a good chance if we had strong regulation by the Department of Commerce of the insurance industry.
Johnson is the only DFL candidate who opposes legalized abortion - on that issue he resembles Republican candidate Norm Coleman. Johnson says if elected, he has no specific plans to pursue abortion legislation.