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Legislative candidates split along party lines on topics of health care

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Fueled by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's recent admission that "the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable to increasing numbers of people," discussion at a League of Women Voters of Woodbury, Cottage Grove forum for legislative candidates focused on health care.

"We're not as interested in fixing it as we are in scoring political points," Alberder Gillespie, a DFL challenger from Woodbury in Minnesota House of Representatives District 53B, said of the incumbents.

Minnesota has led the country in health care and keeping costs low, argued Gillespie's opponent, state Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury. With MNsure, Fenton added, "you're basically being charged to be uninsured."

Andy Turonie, a Republican challenger from Maplewood in House District 53A, said the typical increase on the individual market plan is 52 percent.

"MNsure is a marketplace," defended state Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, the incumbent opposing Turonie. Employed independently, it's not a structure that works for everyone, Ward added.

Sharna Wahlgren, a Republican challenger from Maplewood in Senate District 53, agreed with Turonie that the state is practically fining people for not being able to afford health insurance.

"We need to shrink the entire circle of health care costs," Wahlgren said.

State Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, called for a special session to find a short-term fix of MNsure.

Leaving MNsure, she said, "leaves us at the mercy" of U.S. Congress.

During the forum Oct. 25, DFLers and Republicans were split along party lines as to whether single-payer health care should be supported.

"I don't know if we're ready to get there yet," Kent said.

Expansion of eligibility for MNsure is worthy, she said, and could be a start of an evolution toward single-payer health care.

"A simple yes," Gillespie said.

Single-payer health care is what Minnesota needs for costs to go down, she said.

Ward said she supports single-payer health care "at least at a base level for insurance for everyone."

But Turonie argued: "Open up the marketplace, and lower prices follow."

Fenton argued for a plan that allows patients to keep their doctors, surgeons or specialists. She said she believes in covering people with pre-existing conditions, but a previous proposal for single-payer health care would've required a $17 billion tax increase to get started.

"We can do better," Fenton said.

Audience questions also highlighted the cost of EpiPens, escalating prescription drug costs, universal background checks for gun purchases, a stand your ground law, and transit and transportation.

In their closing statements, candidates bemoaned the lack of progress on transportation, bonding and tax bills last legislative session.

They pointed to the bipartisan strides they have made, and promised a better future.

Kent quoted the late Paul Wellstone: "We all do better when we all do better."

And candidates acknowledged that the east metro legislative districts are battlegrounds.

"Who knows what might happen?" Turonie hypothesized. "The Cubs are in the World Series."