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Minnesota Legislature

Two views on radiation treatment

Published (3/6/2009)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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A bill described as “a fight between two groups,” came under intense debate on the House floor March 5, with the chairs of the House health committees on opposite sides of the issue.

Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) and Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls) sponsor HF177/SF162*, which would extend the current moratorium on construction of new radiation oncology facilities from 2011 to 2014 in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and several regional centers in Greater Minnesota.

Passed by the House 90-39, it now moves to the governor’s desk. It passed the Senate 55-7 on Feb. 19.

“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,” said Thissen, who chairs the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee. 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 members to vote against the bill.

“What we really have is a fight between Starbucks and Caribou Coffee, and Starbucks doesn’t want Caribou to open any more shops. … 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. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) was among those calling the moratorium a cap on free enterprise. “Why should government be making decisions regarding private enterprise. “I don’t know why we want government picking winners and losers, and not letting the market doing its job.”

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