The MMA has been supportive of universal coverage for several years. But this is the first time the organization voted on mandated coverage for all citizens.
The resolution is short on details. It supports a requirement that all Minnesotans have health care coverage for an essential set of benefits. But it doesn't specify what those benefits should be or how to pay for them.
Newly-elected MMA President Richard Geier says the details are still being worked out. In the meantime, he says this was a good opportunity for doctors to signal to lawmakers that this should be an important issue in the next legislative session.
"There's a lot of interest and a lot of impatience that physicians want to see universal coverage as quickly as possible. And I think the fact that Massachusetts has passed a law recently with a mandate gives some more emphasis and more encouragement maybe," he said.
Alcohol is another issue the MMA intends to bring up during the next legislative session. Delegates unanimously approved a resolution to increase the excise tax on beer, wine and spirits by 10 cents a drink. They want to use the money the state collects from the tax to fund prevention, treatment and public safety programs related to alcohol abuse.
MMA CEO Bob Meiches says a good model for the idea already exists.
"We have a cigarette tax and whether Gov. Pawlenty or whomever decides to call it a tax or not, a fee, it's one way to try to change our public health and our practice. And I think the physicians are beginning to say that the scientific evidence says that if we increase the cost of alcohol, we'll have less problems with alcohol," he said.
Meiches says smoke-free legislation remains the organization's top priority, even though the MMA did not pass any resolutions related to tobacco use. He and Geier predict this will be the year that lawmakers pass a statewide smoking ban. Meiches says public support exists for the idea and he says the pressure will only continue to mount as organizations like the MMA give their business to communities that have smoking bans.
"Our meeting was in Minneapolis because it's smoke-free and our meeting next year is in Mankato and it's going to be in Mankato because it's a smoke-free community. And that's why we're going there. Duluth wants us to come and Rochester and St. Cloud and others and we won't go there because they're not smoke-free," he said.
The MMA did not adopt several controversial driving proposals aimed at both young and older drivers. One would have asked the state to require 16 and 17 year olds to receive more rigorous skills testing. It also would have restricted those teens from driving with other teenagers in their vehicle unless an adult was present. It would have also banned them from driving after 11 p.m. Another proposal called for more frequent and more rigorous license testing for drivers over age 70.
MMA delegates asked their board members to do some more work on those proposals and bring them back to the membership for consideration next year.