Dr. Irv Lerner, a retired oncologist, opines in the Star Tribune about one of the most intriguing wars at the Capitol: The current moratorium on the construction of any new cancer radiation facilities.
The Star Tribune titled Lerner’s piece, “Moratorium on radiation facilities seems not to have patients in mind.” That’s an understatement. I’ll get to that, but first some background. Because, dear readers, if my memory serves, this is the first time the radiation oncology war has appeared in the paper.
There are two combatants. Minneapolis Radiation Oncology (MRO) and Minnesota Oncology Hematology (MOHPA). Under current Minnesota law, MRO has a monopoly on radiation therapy facilities. MOHPA wants to build competing facilities.
The moratorium MRO passed into law years ago reads that radiation therapy facilities may “be constructed only by an entity owned, operated, or controlled by a hospital licensed according to sections 144.50 to 144.56 either alone or in conjunction with another entity.” Only MRO qualifies under that bit of legalese.
MRO’s monopoly on radiation treatment in Minnesota is a serious cash cow.
How much cash? I don’t know, but the amount has to be staggering. Consider the most salient statistic: Half of all Minnesotans will need cancer treatment at some point in their lives. No health care provider in his or her right mind will deny radiation treatment for cancer. Medicare won’t. Obamacare won’t. Radiation treatment must be worth millions — if not gazillions — of dollars.
Several years ago, I poured over Campaign Finance Board (CFB) reports trying to figure out how much money MRO was spending.
Here are some of my calculations. [The following numbers do not include the 2010 election cycle.] Since 1998, the CFB has kept searchable donor database reports online. From these reports, one can learn that MRO founder Dr. Robert E. Haselow, and his wife, Justine Haselow, contributed $458,325 to Minnesota political candidates, parties and party units. Other doctors at MRO contributed at least $64,600.
Then there are the aggregate contributions of the other doctors, their wives and their employees who have also given money in the process. Money that’s tough to trace, given our current reporting system. Next you have to look at the contributions made by trade associations, their members and their members’ employees.
Complicating matters further are the contributions made by registered lobbyists for the various groups. Lobbyists registered for MRO are here; those registered for MOHPA are here. Capitol insiders will recognize serious lobbying power in the representation of both groups.
In his Star Tribune op ed piece, Dr. Lerner politely wonders “if there might be a connection between the passage of the moratorium and the push to extend it and the fact that MRO had the sixth-largest lobbying expenditures in the entire state in 2010.”
“Connection?” Yes, but not exactly.
Direct causation? Yes, exactly and absolutely.
MRO has spent millions of dollars on Minnesota legislators and political parties to preserve and extend their cash cow monopoly on radiation treatment.
To be clear. There is nothing illegal about what Dr. Haselow and the others who want to keep MRO’s radiation therapy status quo have done. They have legally worked the system the Legislature designed. But the fact that one couple has contributed close to half a million dollars to protect the family livelihood is not only breathtaking, it’s unprecedented.
A quick summary of the policy arguments by both sides. MRO argues that we have enough radiation therapy services under current law; MOHPA contends that more facilities are needed.
The free market capitalist in me has to believe that the more radiation services that are available, the lower the price the delivery of those services becomes.
MRO gives to the legislators and parties in power. That means both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of being bought by MRO. Worse, highly respected legislators in both parties have carried the MRO’s bills.
I’ve always maintained that Minnesota politics are pretty clean. They are. But I consider the greedy radiation oncologists to be one of the most glaring exceptions to the clean politics rule.
Hopefully, somebody else has the knowledge and the time to figure out how many zeroes are in that fortune.