Candidate Q&A: Minnesota Senate District 27
By Michael Stoll, Austin Daily Herald
Author’s note: This is a continuation of the Tribune’s ongoing candidate Q&A features and the third between Minnesota District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL) and challenger Gene Dornink (R). For this feature, we asked the candidates questions concerning health care.
How would you rate the overall state of health care in District 27?
Dan Sparks: We’re facing major challenges with health care not just in District 27, but across Minnesota, particularly in rural areas. The two main issues I hear about with health care are affordability and availability. We’ve unfortunately seen the impact of this in our own communities, whether it’s the hospital in Albert Lea or clinics in our small cities. Mayo provides excellent quality of health care, but we’ve had competition issues in the insurance market that have led to problems with affordability and accessibility.
I think that with improved competition, we’d see the local market open up more, which would help increase both the affordability and accessibility of health care.
While we’ve taken steps to address these problems at the Legislature, we know there is more work to be done. If reelected, I’ll see that we continue making headway on these issues.
Gene Dornink: Minnesota for decades was the gold standard of health care; after the ACA, that isn’t the case. Obviously we have seen better times before Obamacare and the whole “you can keep your doctor” lie that was sold to us by the Democrat party.
Thankfully, Republican leadership in St. Paul passed Reinsurance, which helped stabilize the individual market. But the Legislature needs to continue its work in finding free market and cost-lowering measures that will help individuals afford insurance.
Minnesota has always been a national leader in health care and I look forward to continuing that tradition in St. Paul as your next senator.
What have been the main concerns you’ve heard from district voters when it comes to health care?
Sparks: As I touched on before, the voters I’ve spoken to have concerns about both the availability and affordability of health care, as well as prescription drugs. As we have taken steps to drive down costs, it has been clear that health care is still a burden for many families.
People shouldn’t have to struggle to receive quality health care, no matter whether it’s an issue of cost or availability. I’m thankful that we’ve been able to address some of these issues, but the fight still isn’t over.
As your state senator, I’ll continue working with Republicans and Democrats alike to see that we build on past legislation to address the problems with affordability and accessibility in health care.
Dornink: Voters are concerned about the complete government takeover of health care that DFLers are trying to adopt. If we can’t trust our government to implement a new driver’s license system, I don’t think we should trust them with our health care.
I want to work toward solutions that address the overpricing that happens in medicine. That’s why I am supportive of recent legislation that Republicans passed related to price transparency and removing the “gag” rule that allows for a pharmacist to tell you if a similar drug that may be cheaper is available.
I should also mention that I have started to hear at the doors that folks are concerned about pre-existing conditions. Pre-existing conditions have been covered in Minnesota since 1976 and I have never supported ending that coverage. To be clear: I support the coverage of pre-existing conditions. Anything that says otherwise is a campaign smear that they know is not true.
Do you think Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota health officials have taken proper steps to address the coronavirus pandemic?
Sparks: Overall, I believe the governor and state health officials have done a good job addressing the coronavirus pandemic. Minnesota has performed well and kept our numbers down compared to other states that opted not to take public health precautions, and I believe in that regard the governor’s leadership has steered our state in the right direction.
Looking back, there are things that could have been handled differently in my opinion, such as the forced closures of small and local businesses while big box stores were allowed to remain open. That said, we’ve been able to successfully work together and make progress on issues like that.
The coronavirus pandemic has also underscored the importance of our nurses, doctors and health care professionals. I’m thankful for their tireless efforts to care for those who are ill and to support our health care system when it’s under stress. It’s critical that our health care professionals have the resources and support they need to succeed, and you can be sure that I’ll continue working to that end at the state Capitol if reelected.
Dornink: I think that early on in the pandemic, the governor worked well with the Legislature and approved many important provisions that tried to address the uncertainty.
Since then, I wish that the Walz administration would listen to local officials and not treat us with a one-size-fits-all model. We are not certain what benchmarks need to be met to reopen; the mask mandate has not slowed down the spread and with winter coming, restaurants will lose their temporary patios and are certainly facing financial disasters.
We need a voice in St. Paul that will fight for our community and speak up for us. Gov. Walz needs to work with the Legislature and not adopt the one-size-fits-all model he is currently using. Why should our rural communities be treated the same as the Twin Cities?
Do you support a single-payer health care system?
Sparks: No, I do not support a single-payer health care system. That said, we of course can’t keep with the current status quo on health care either. I would be open to a proposal allowing folks to buy into MinnesotaCare, and overall we must look at a wide variety of options to address problems with the cost and availability of health care in Minnesota.
Anything else you would like to add?
Sparks: Within the past few years, I received my insurance licensure. At my job, I have the opportunity to help people figure out which health insurance options are best for them and make sure they have coverage. But unfortunately, I also see some of the difficult choices people have to make. It’s heartbreaking to see someone have to decide if they want to pay their rent or mortgage on time, or if they want health insurance. That’s a position that nobody should have to find themselves in.
If reelected, I’ll continue fighting to make sure that folks in our communities have affordable, accessible health care.
Dornink: I want to again thank folks for taking the time to read this. Health care is a real opportunity for folks to see the difference between the two parties. The DFL health care system has already raised health care costs and ruined the individual market for health insurance. Why would we further this pain that our small businesses and individuals have suffered? Their plan takes the decision away from patients and their families.
We need free market solutions where everyone gets quality affordable health care; a system that is fair and affordable that covers preexisting conditions like Minnesota has done for decades.
I just want to say again: I support covering pre-existing conditions.