Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Lobbyist and political fees proposed to cover investigations

Klobuchar, Franken want to delay medical device tax; data security breach; T-Mobile upgrade; young smokers declining; UnitedHealth acquisition questioned; and more.

Now, here are several groups in dire need of effective representation … Says the AP’s Brian Bakst: “A Minnesota campaign finance oversight board is weighing whether to impose new fees on lobbyists, candidates and political parties to address budget strains that have been exacerbated by added calls for investigations. The fees discussed Monday are being developed by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board as a backup plan if lawmakers balk at a request for increased funding from the state’s general treasury. … Under one scenario, lobbyists would be charged $50, with a cap of $750 for those representing more than 15 clients. The expectation, Goldsmith said, is some people would stop registering as lobbyists. Lobbyists are required to pay registration fees in 42 states. In some places, lobbyists are assessed for every client represented while other states have a single charge.”

Speaking of the full attention of their elected officials … . Jim Spencer of the Strib reports: “Minnesota’s two Senators asked to delay implementation of a tax on medical devices that was expected to add $28 billion to the U.S. budget to pay for health care reform over the next decade. Sen. Amy Klobuchar co-wrote and Sen. Al Franken signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that sought to postpone the device tax which the state’s burgeoning medical technology sector strongly opposes. A total of 16 current Senators and two Senators elected in November signed the letter, including all the heavy hitters in Democratic Senate leadership.” Follow the money.

Try to be reassured … Jennifer Bjorhus of the Strib says: “The personal information of 98,191 Minnesotans may have been released in a large data security breach at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. earlier this fall, state insurance regulators said Monday. … The company, among the largest insurers in the country, said the information potentially released included names and possibly Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, birthdates, marital status, gender, occupations and the names and addresses of people’s employers.”

They’re transplanting what … ? Lorna Benson at MPR reports: “In an experimental treatment that may be the only way they can save some people who have contracted a dangerous colon infection, out of desperation some Minnesota doctors are transplanting donated human feces into their patients’ colons. Doctors say fecal transplants could allow patients to more quickly develop their own natural defenses against clostridium difficile, an infection that kills 14,000 people in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. … Fecal transplants have been around since at least the 1950s. In the early days, doctors would prepare stool enemas for patients with C. difficile. Then antibiotics came along and doctors didn’t need to bother with fecal transplants anymore. But antibiotic resistance has changed that, and now the old techniques are being revisited. Nevertheless, 60 years later the procedure is still considered experimental.”

Article continues after advertisement

You’ll be getting a bit more for your money if you’re a T-Mobile customer. Martin Moylan’s MPR story says: “T-Mobile has upgraded its wireless voice and data services in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud. The wireless company said the network enhancement includes St. Cloud, Brooklyn Park, east Bloomington, the Mall of America, the Xcel Center, and the University of Minnesota. Subscribers should notice a number of improvements, said Jennifer Silveira, T-Mobile’s central region engineering vice president, including better voice and data quality, increased signal strength and improved connections within buildings. … With the upgrade, T-Mobile said some consumers may be able to switch from AT&T and keep their existing smartphones. Further improvements in Minnesota are planned this year and next.”

According to the AP, Wisconsin kids are buttin’ out: “Wisconsin health officials say smoking by middle and high school students has dropped to an all-time low. The 2012 Wisconsin Youth Tobacco Survey, released Monday, found that 13 percent of high schoolers say they smoke and 2.5 percent of middle schoolers admit to smoking. The last study in 2010 showed nearly 18 percent of high schoolers and nearly 4 percent of middle schoolers smoked. … The 2012 figures contrast sharply with 2000, when 33 percent of high school students and 12 percent of middle school students said they smoked.”

The karmic wheel claims another one … Emily Gurnon of the PiPress writes: “A month after he was charged with seven felonies alleging financial exploitation of his 92-year-old aunt, a St. Paul man has died, according to an official with the department of public health, which maintains death records. Larry Dean Fiscus, 64, was due to appear in Ramsey County District Court on Tuesday, Dec. 11. … Fiscus was charged in February with gross misdemeanor criminal neglect after medical personnel Aug. 8, 2011, found his aunt, Corrine Merrick, with a bedsore and dried feces on her body. She reported being ‘in pain everywhere,’ according to the complaint. The two lived together at her home in the 1300 block of Colby Avenue in the Highland Park neighborhood. Fiscus was her caretaker.”

Conflicts of interest in the health insurance business? Christopher Snowbeck of the PiPress says: “In a letter issued Monday, Dec. 10, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asks a series of questions related to a UnitedHealth acquisition of Quality Software Services Inc., a Maryland company that has a federal contract to build a database hub for health exchanges. … ‘This contract creates a situation whereby the exchange’s ultimate designer, QSSI, is in a position to tailor the system to favor the interests of its parent company, UnitedHealth Group, and further maintain a monopoly over information that is unavailable to competitors,’ wrote Grassley in a letter that also was signed by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan. The Maryland company, which is known as QSSI, was acquired by a UnitedHealth subsidiary called Optum in September, Grassley wrote. UnitedHealth also owns UnitedHealthcare, a large health insurance company that is expected to sell policies on health exchanges.” For some reason, I doubt Mr. Grassley will move any closer to favoring a single-payer system.

Demolition could begin this winter on the Ford plant in St. Paul. Kevin Duchschere of the Strib says: “The demolition plan, submitted last week, will get its first official review Tuesday night, when the Highland District Council holds a public meeting to review it. The Planning Commission is expected to take its vote before the end of the month. Demolition is the first step toward preparing the 122-acre site for a new use — most likely a mixed-use development that would fit in well with the Highland Park district, one of St. Paul’s most popular residential areas. Ford’s plan to clear the site and clean it of pollutants, if necessary, could take until 2017 to complete.”