U.S. Sen. Al Franken reiterated his stance Thursday that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision that limited access to birth control must be overridden, in a women’s health roundtable in St. Paul that focused largely in the fallout from this summer’s Hobby Lobby ruling.
The ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that requiring corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception violated federal law protecting religious freedom. Franken told the panel of assorted women lawyers, citizens and advocates that it ruling must be overturned.
“This turns on its head the whole notion of freedom of religion,” Franken said. “To me, it’s about the freedom of a woman, in this case, to choose whether she wants to use contraception or not. Because of the (Affordable Care Act) it’s a basic, effective, essential healthcare.”
Franken said he is open to FDA review of making oral contraceptives more accessible to women—a position McFadden has taken. However, he added that the key issue is that it be covered by insurance, not how accessible it may be.
“The issue here isn’t where you get it,” he said. “It’s who pays for it.”
The roundtable included Winnie Williams of Woodbury, a mother of two teenage daughters, one with a benign brain tumor with symptoms treated thorough a specific kind of birth control.
“When I look at this issue, I look at it and say ‘You just told me and my daughter that we might not be able to have control of excessive bleeding, depression, migraines, brain tumors,” she said. “You’re telling me that my employer controls whether I have that as part of my medical care. And that, to me, is just unconscionable.”
McFadden, however, said Franken’s criticism of Republicans on women’s issues an “election year gimmick” in efforts to distract Minnesotans from current issues like Ebola and the ongoing Islamic State threat.
“You’ve seen this play out all across the country. It’s right out of the Democrats’ political guidelines as this is how we try to divide people.” McFadden said.
Franken said Thursday that the roundtable was to address issues important to women and men alike.
“The job of a senator is to pay attention to a lot of things all at one time,” he said.
A political action committee representing Minnesota physicians endorsed Gov. Mark Dayton for re-election on Thursday.
MEDPAC is the political arm of the Minnesota Medical Association. The PAC's board of directors, made up of physicians, decided on the endorsement.
In a news release, the group praised the incumbent Democrat for supporting the group's agenda "on almost every issue." Specifically cited was the budget Dayton signed last year, which restored medical education funding and increased physician payment rates; and Dayton's support for a tobacco tax increase, more money for newborn screening, prohibiting minor access to tanning beds and restrictions on e-cigarettes.
"Dayton has showed time and time again that he supports the MMA's advocacy efforts on behalf of the doctors and patients of the state of Minnesota and for that he deserves our support," said MEDPAC chairman Michael Tedford, an Edina physician.
MEDPAC endorses candidates for office and contributes to the campaigns of endorsed candidates. It's supported by voluntary contributions from its members, and does not receive money from the larger Minnesota Medical Association or its member dues.
After state officials said Wednesday that rates on the MNsure health insurance exchange will increase an average of 4.5 percent, Democrats praised what they called a modest rise while Republicans seized on the figure, calling it "bogus" and "deceptive."
In a short address with reporters, Gov. Mark Dayton said the rise in the average rate was "predominately good news," praising Minnesota for having among the lowest insurance premiums in the country, according to state officials.
State Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R- Eden Prairie, and Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, delivered the response for Republicans. Hann attacked the 4.5 percent figure, arguing that it masks what are larger rate increases for certain plans, participants and regions.
The MNsure rates releases comes hours before Gov. Dayton and GOP challenger Jeff Johnson are set to square off the first gubernatorial debate of the election cycle. In statement, Johnson criticized Dayton for what he called a failure to deliver on a promise that MNsure would decrease the cost of health insurance for middle-class Minnesotans.
"Time and time again, Mark Dayton has failed to deliver on his promises to middle-class Minnesotans," Johnson said. "In fact, the only promises he's kept are the ones he's made to the special interest groups who fund his campaign."
Wednesday's rise in the average rate was no surprise, according to analysts. That's partly because PreferredOne, the Golden Valley-based insurer, announced last month it would leave MNsure and not sell policies for 2015, according to Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. PreferredOne currently offers the lowest-cost options on MNsure.
Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, health insurance experts pointed to other factors also could be driving premium increases. MNsure will withhold a larger share of premiums next year to cover the cost of the exchange. Health costs are growing, in general, and more patients with costly health problems likely will move from a state safety net program to MNsure.
U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden on Friday laid out a proposal to do away with the Affordable Care Act in favor of optional state exchanges with the opportunity to buy insurance across borders.
The proposal is part of a six-page detailed outline by McFadden, a Republican businessman who is challenging U.S. Sen. Al Franken. McFadden has long advocated for repealing the ACA.
“I fundamentally believe that healthcare should not be done at the federal level, but should be state-based and market-centered,” McFadden told reporters Friday. “I think if it continues to be run and administered at the federal level, it will ultimately look like the (Veterans Administration) and that’s not acceptable and that’s not what Minnesotans want.”
McFadden’s proposed system includes a six-point plan to lower costs by expanding Health Savings Accounts, increasing price transparency for medical procedures, allow the pooling of small businesses to procure the same benefits as larger corporations, allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines, and reforming both healthcare tax laws and the tort system.
McFadden said that individual states should be able to decide whether they want to issue individual mandates to purchase health insurance.
“If Minnesota wants to have a mandate or Massachusetts wants to have a mandate, then that’s their decision.” He said. “When I say that states are laboratories for experiments, I want them to experiment. You run into a fundamental problem with a program that’s this large, and covers 1/6th of the economy.”
McFadden maintained that last week’s pullout of PreferredOne, the chief provider in MNsure, is not the fault of the state’s health care exchange, is proof that large patient pools are not effective.
"I'm here to tell you today these pools under Obamacare are not working." he said. "When PreferredOne, who is the 60 percent low-cost provider, comes in and says 'We can't make money,' that's not MNsure, the exchange's fault. What it is, is that the system can't make money."
Republican Jeff Johnson hammered on the Dayton administration's handling of MNsure Friday, in what has swiftly become a principal theme of his campaign for governor.
It was Johnson's third press conference on MNsure since the news earlier this week that PreferredOne, which offered the lowest rates and sold the most plans on the state health insurance exchange in the last year, is pulling out. Four insurance companies continue to sell plans on the site, but Johnson and Republican allies seized on the news as they try to take advantage of the Dayton administration's struggles to get MNsure operating efficiently.
This time, Johnson called for Minnesota's legislative auditor, a Capitol watchdog agency, to expand an ongoing MNsure audit to include a look at the Dayton administration's role in setting PreferredOne rates. Johnson said the situation "looks fishy," but was not able to offer any evidence or even specific allegations of wrongdoing.
"That's what we need to find out," Johnson said.
A day earlier, Dayton when asked by reporters said his administration did not dictate anything to PreferredOne. The company has made no allegations to that affect, either.
"The Commerce Department and the administration do not dictate to these companies what the rates are," Dayton said. "The notion that we set these rates is another one of the fallacies that those who are opposed to the system want to perpetuate."
While Johnson has tried to turn the MNsure issue against Dayton, the DFL has hit back against Johnson by highlighting some of his own past votes on health care. Specifically, Johnson acknowledged Friday that as a state legislator in 2003, he voted for a budget backed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a fellow Republican, that eliminated about 38,000 adults without children from state-provided health care coverage.
"That was a decade ago in the midst of a very deep deficit that we were in the middle of and that was part of the governor's plan to balance the budget without tax increases," Johnson said.
Earlier in his campaign, Johnson talked more frequently of scrapping MNsure altogether. He still says he'd seek a federal waiver from complying with the federal Affordable Care Act, but has also acknowleged that if elected he would likely have to continue to deal with MNsure.
"We have MNsure sitting in front of us and we have to figure out how to move on from that," Johnson said.