'Special place in hell:' Jeff Johnson refutes attack ad featuring disabled man

Republican candidate for Minnesota governor Jeff Johnson said Wednesday "there's a special place in hell" for the group attacking him over health care in an ad featuring a disabled man.

Johnson disputed that his policies would lead to the elimination of health coverage for low-income people with disabilities. The ad's creator, Alliance for a Better Minnesota, said Johnson was lying.

"It’s vile. It’s morally bankrupt. Frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach," Johnson said at a news conference.

For years, repealing the national health law known as the Affordable Care Act was a Republican rallying cry, but Democrats are now using the health care issue against GOP candidates.

Polls consistently health care is the top issue in the Minnesota governor's race, which features two candidates with opposite views on the topic. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, the Democrat leading Johnson in polls, advocates for an expansion of MinnesotaCare, the state-run insurance program that currently serves people of modest income.

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota ad says Johnson's proposals would end coverage for 300,000 Minnesotans and drive up costs.

The disabled man, Austin Boucher, says doctors gave him six months to live after he was born. He says his family could not afford medical treatment without insurance.

"People with disabilities deserve affordable health care, just like everybody else," he says in the ad. "For Jeff Johnson to treat us this way is profoundly shameful."

Johnson said low-income disabled people would remain covered under state insurance or through Medicaid.

"Certainly if you’re talking about a disabled child from a poor family, I can make you a promise they will not lose health insurance," he told reporters.

Johnson supports a return to high-risk pools, which existed before the Affordable Care Act. He said they will cost the state less than a reinsurance program approved this year that will temporarily subsidize insurers for high-cost enrollees.

Democrats say those within the high-risk pools will end up paying more, meaning many could not afford health coverage.

"The only person in this room today who was lying about Jeff Johnson’s health care plan is Jeff Johnson," said Marissa Luna, a spokeswoman for Alliance for a Better Minnesota.

The group has spent $4.1 million against Johnson in the race, according to state campaign finance reports filed this week.

Walz has said he ultimately supports a single-payer, government-run health care model. Johnson says that would lead to major tax increases, create new bureaucracy, and provide worse health care.

Kayla Castaneda, a Walz spokeswoman, declined to say whether Walz agreed with the criticisms leveled against Johnson in the ad.

Instead, she provided a statement from Walz that said he would "fight to pass a strong public option through MinnesotaCare so that everyone has access to quality, affordable health care."