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Two views on radiation treatment

Published (1/30/2009)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Chairs of two House health committees are on opposite sides of an issue that one described as “a fight between two groups.”

Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) sponsors HF177 that would extend the current moratorium on construction of new radiation oncology facilities from 2011 to 2014.

It’s an issue that has been the subject of extensive hearings over the years, Thissen, who chairs the House Health Care and Human Service Policy and Oversight Committee, told members Jan. 27.

“The Legislature has made the decision, on repeated occasions, that limiting the expansion of these machines is the right public policy for us to be pursuing.” He pointed to information from the Minnesota Hospital Association and individual providers showing there are more radiation services available than needed, based on 2007 capacity. “This is in a large part about controlling costs,” he said.

But the chairman of the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division has a different take on the matter and encouraged committee members to vote against the bill.

“It’s a fight between two good groups of radiation oncologists, both of them do a good job, but one of them wants to keep the other out of the business,” said Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL-Duluth).

He said that one group owns their machines and leases space in hospitals. The other uses a model where the oncology professionals act as a team. Its machines could be in hospitals or in separate facilities. Huntley argued the latter provides greater access for patients.

Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) questioned whether a trigger mechanism had ever been proposed that would address need and what best serves the cancer patient without political input. “That our committee should constantly have to be deciding on an extension of moratoriums seems to be a little counterproductive.”

The bill was approved and now awaits action by the full House. Its Senate companion, SF162, sponsored by Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee.

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