Affordable health care and water protection emerge as key issues in District 43A

The White Bear Lake League of Women Voters held a forum at Mahtomedi City Hall Sept. 20 for the two candidates running for Minnesota House District 43A.

District 43A includes Maplewood precincts 1-9, White Bear Lake precincts 3-5, Mahtomedi and Willernie.

DFL incumbent Peter Fischer, who is finishing his third term as representative of the district, and Republican candidate Robert “Bob” Cardinal, a former Maplewood mayor, agreed that 1,000-page omnibus bills are not acceptable, said they would support raising the gas tax for road and transit improvements and said they would support additional funding to complete the Lake Links Trail. 

However, their positions differed on other issues. The two most-debated topics during the forum included how to make health care more affordable and how to protect Minnesota waters.

Aspiring to affordable health care

When asked what can be done to make health care more affordable for individuals, Fischer said one way to do that is to offer more options, such as allowing individuals in the free market the option to buy into the MinnesotaCare program, which he said has “great cost controls,” as well as low deductibles and low copays.

Fischer also pointed to eliminating waste in the free market health care system. He included examples such as the staff that has to be hired to exclusively resubmit claims to insurance companies for procedures the insurance companies were supposed to cover, and doctors and nurses spending much of their time on the phone with insurance companies trying to figure out what treatments will or will not be covered for patients.

“This is what’s going on and making part of our system so expensive because the system that is set up in the free market right now has got all this duplication built into it,” Fischer said. “If that was a system that was streamlined, that would become much more effective.”

Fischer added that the Medicare system is an example of a federally run, streamlined system.

Cardinal noted that his first priority is to protect people with pre-existing conditions, and also said that workers should be able to put more money into health savings accounts to cover the cost of telemedicine, phone and email consultations, doctor services, home visits and chronic disease management.

Despite Cardinal’s support for change, it’s unclear how much state funding he would support to make it happen. He said that the costs of providing programs like Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare are “robbing” funds from other investments, particularly school funding.

“I really want to make sure that people in the need for medical care can access it. We also must protect funds for schools, for bridges, for roads and other human services,” he said.

 

Single-payer health care

Cardinal also listed cost as the main reason he is against transitioning to a single-payer health care system.

According to Cardinal, countries with single-payer systems experience the burden of rising costs being placed on the governments and, as a result, governments rationing care.

Fischer, who noted that he is open to supporting a single-payer health care system, countered that the country’s current health care system is the most expensive in the world, though that doesn’t necessarily reflect in good health care outcomes. His statements prove to be accurate based on a study published in March in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Fischer also said small business owners have shared with him their frustrations in understanding and financing health insurance for their employees. Fischer added that the insurance plan that works best for one employee doesn’t necessarily work for another.

“Before the Affordable Care Act came along ... half of all bankruptcies in this country were the result of medical debt. Most of that medical debt [was accrued by] people that already had health insurance,” Fischer said. His statements are backed up by a study published in 2009 in the American Journal of Medicine.

Fischer attributed the bankruptcies to pre-existing conditions not being covered by health insurance plans, exclusions in health insurance plans and increases in drug prices.

Cardinal claimed that switching to a single-payer plan in Minnesota would cost the state $16 billion a year for the first year, with increases in following years. The Review was unable to verify his statement.

Cardinal also pointed to the higher insurance premiums experienced after the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. He added that Minnesotans should consider reforms that lower premiums and allow patients, not the government, to be in control of their medical care. 

 

Protecting water

Water concerns were also discussed at length during the forum.

Cardinal focused on the need to address issues at Mahtomedi’s Lost Lake, which he first brought up in his statement against 1,000-page omnibus bills and discussed again when asked what can be done to protect Minnesota waters. 

In 2014 and 2015, damaged pipes led to raw sewage contaminating Lost Lake, and Cardinal accused Fischer of a lack of leadership in dealing with the issue.

Fischer argued that there has been action on the issue and pointed to recent meetings held with residents and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as well as other agencies.

“One of the great things is when we facilitated the meeting with the MPCA and the landowners in that situation. The MPCA had not known at that point in time that [sewage] had run across a landowners property and that damage had occurred there, so that’s one of the things, by facilitating that meeting and bringing people together, we’re getting things that start moving,” Fischer said.

“Unfortunately, sometimes in government it does not move as quick as we would like,” he added.

Cardinal pointed out that the contamination first occurred four years ago. “Now you’re having meetings right before an election. I mean, come on. What’s that all about?” he quipped. 

Instead of rebutting Cardinal’s comment, Fischer moved on to a number of other things that can be done to protect water, including picking up where he left off on a bill he carried in the last legislative session to streamline the process water conservation districts go through to protect water.

He also said he helped reinstate the Legislative Water Commission, a bipartisan commission that examines issues like aging wastewater treatment systems in Minnesota and water sustainability, particularly regarding its connection to groundwater resources in the communities surrounding White Bear Lake. 

“This Lost Lake has been tragic for many of the residents here,” Cardinal said. “Instead of being on a commission that likes to study and talk about issues with water, you should take care of your own district. I certainly would if I was presented that problem.”

Residents of District 43A will decide on Election Day, Nov. 6, if Fischer or Cardinal will represent them in the House for the next two years.

-Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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