MINNEAPOLIS -- Twin Cities voters are getting mixed messages from Republicans when it comes to the repeal of the medical device tax.
A political ad by the National Republican Congressional Committee grills Democrat Angie Craig for supporting an idea that all 241 Republicans in Congress supported.
And on Tuesday Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and Sen. Amy Klobuchar both received "Congressional Champion" awards from AdvaMed, a national med tech industry group, for their efforts to suspend the tax.
"It's hard to believe that Republicans are attacking me for opposing a tax that I believe was going to harm Minnesota families and the Minnesota economy," remarked Craig, who is running against Republican Jason Lewis for the open seat in Minnesota's Second Congressional District.
As a political newcomer Craig has no voting record to defend, so the opposition in this case is taking a shot at her position on an issue connected to her two decades in the medical device industry.
The ad highlight's Craig's support for the Affordable Care Act, which was funded in part by the tax on medical devices.
The narrator can be heard saying, "Yet Craig pushed to get her own industry a special exemption from ObamaCare taxes. Angie Craig: Big profits for her, a big disaster for us."
The accompanying image on the screen reads, "Craig's company spent $770,000 on lobbying" and includes a banner that reads, in all caps,"SPECIAL TAX EXEMPTION."
Craig spent ten years on the executive team for St. Jude Medical, a global medical device manufacturer based in St. Paul. And it's true that St. Jude will benefit from the end of the tax, but so will every other medical device maker.
But the ad fails to point out the idea received widespread support from the entire medical device industry, and that all the Republicans in Congress voted for the proposal.
"I would've voted exactly where Congressman Kline voted in Congress, and Paulsen and Emmer on that legislation," Craig told KARE.
AdvaMed, the medical device trade association, is holding its national conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center this week. The exhibitors include many familiar names from Minnesota's legendary "medical alley," which now includes 600 companies employing an estimated 36,000 Minnesotans.
At Tuesday's session Sen. Klobuchar and Rep. Paulsen were recognized for their work removing "a tax on innovation," which was included in original Affordable Care Act legislation. They worked against the tax because it applied equally to large established companies and startups that hadn't yet become profitable.
"It took five years. We finally got it over the finish line with persistence, persistence, persistence," Rep. Paulsen told a luncheon crowd, thanking industry leaders for their lobbying and advocacy.
Ironically, Paulsen's campaign has given a financial boost to the organization running the ads attacking Craig and other Democrats. The Center for Responsive Politics lists a total of $33,100 in expenditures by the Paulsen's Campaign for the NRCC in 2016.
Affordable Care Act
The remainder of the NRCC ad points out premium hikes in the individual market -- people who are not in group health insurance plans -- and assails Craig for her support for the Affordable Care Act and the idea of expanding it.
Craig said improvements are needed to deal with the cost and access issues related to the individual market, where five percent of Minnesotans get their coverage. But she doesn't believe in scrapping the ACA, which Congressional Republicans have tried to do dozens of times.
"I believe we've got to make it more affordable, but I don't think it's an either/or choice, and that's a key difference between me and Jason on that issue," Craig explained.
"We don't want to go back to the days of barring people from health coverage because of preexisting conditions, or not allowing our children to stay on our policies until age 26."
Among the health reforms she favors is legislation authoring the Medicare to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug prices for those enrolled in Medicare Part D. The idea is generally supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, who say the idea would stifle research and development.
Many experts cite rising drug prices as a key reason insurers are exiting the individual health insurance marketplace. Those companies are attempting to cover a pool of customers that is older, and less healthy -- because they can't be rejected based on preexisting conditions.
Democrats say efforts to reform the Affordable Care Act, to make it work better, have been stymied because GOP lawmakers want to scrap it altogether, and replace it with something else.
"I'm a person who grew up in a household without health insurance," Craig said. "So this is really personal to me."