Emmer to lobby for effort he opposed as legislator

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2011 - 9:50 PM

He'll seek to extend a ban on new cancer radiation clinics not tied to hospitals; as a legislator, he sought to lift it. He says the moratorium will clear a path for the free market.

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Tom Emmer

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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Two years ago, then-state Rep. Tom Emmer made a fervent appeal on the House floor to lift a moratorium on new cancer radiation clinics not attached to hospitals.

In a spirited debate, the Republican from Delano called the ban "patently unfair" and "micromanaging in its worst form." He pleaded with legislators to let "market forces return."

Earlier this month, the unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate registered as a lobbyist. His only client: Minneapolis Radiation Oncology Physicians, the outfit that wants to extend the moratorium.

Emmer defended the switch, saying he now believes extending the moratorium will ultimately allow the free market to work.

"I am in favor of the free market, absolutely," Emmer said Monday. "But on this issue, you need to be more considerate."

He said that if the state were to rip open the marketplace now, "it could be very dangerous. ... I don't want to destroy what we have."

To the leader of a group that wants to end the ban, and which gave Emmer's gubernatorial campaign $2,000 a year ago, that was an unexpected statement.

"I was surprised to hear that, based on his previously stated belief in the free-market approach and limited government interference," said Dr. Tom Flynn, president of Minnesota Oncology Hematology PA and chairman of its political-action committee. "I am not quite sure I follow the logic."

In March 2009, state Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, sponsored a bill to extend the moratorium to 2014. The ban, which began in 2003, covers 14 counties and includes the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and Duluth.

Thissen and other supporters argued that allowing these new, satellite radiology treatment centers would ultimately drive up health care costs and potentially delay innovation as the centers focused on recouping their investment rather than finding new, better cancer treatments.

Opponents argued that the moratoriums stifled the free market and cemented lucrative monopolies for existing cancer centers. They said that lifting the ban could make health care more accessible for Minnesotans.

During the debate, Emmer offered an amendment to lift the ban, saying: "What you are doing is protecting a dinosaur ... it doesn't work."

House members defeated the amendment and overwhelmingly passed the moratorium extension, 90-39. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the legislation into law.

Emmer will now put his lobbying muscle behind a new proposal to extend the moratorium to 2017.

How did one of the most vocal critics of the moratorium come to work for the group that wants to keep it firmly in place?

Emmer said representatives from Minneapolis Radiation Oncology Physicians approached him about the position, which he described as part time. He wouldn't say how much he will be paid.

The leader of the group could not be reached for comment.

Over the past decade, the two sides have contributed to numerous campaigns and hired many high-powered lobbyists. Minneapolis Radiation Oncology Physicians, for instance, also recently hired another retired legislator and onetime gubernatorial candidate as a lobbyist: former DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe.

Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288

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