Dayton wants MinnesotaCare open to everyone – what that means, and how it would work

MinnesotaCare is currently a health insurance option for low-income Minnesotans.
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Gov. Mark Dayton wants to open MinnesotaCare – a health insurance program for low-income Minnesotans – to everyone.

MinnesotaCare is a state-operated health insurance plan that began in 1992 and serves more than 100,000 Minnesotans. But the governor now wants to make buying in open to everyone, no matter their income level.

This wouldn't change how things are done for people who currently qualify for MinnesotaCare, but it would allow every other Minnesotan to take advantage of what the program offers – health insurance coverage, and access to more doctors in greater Minnesota, all at what's advertised as a cheaper price, according to a fact sheet.

How would this work?

Those who buy into MinnesotaCare would get health coverage for roughly $469 per person per month, on average. That's about $69 (or 12 percent) less than the average premium for commercial health plans sold in Minnesota this year, the fact sheet says.

And this program wouldn't cost taxpayers any more money. Those who buy in wouldn't get any state help, and, outside of an initial $12 million for start-up costs, the state wouldn't need to spend any more money on the program.

Arguments for it

Supporters ofthe plan stress that MinnesotaCare has proven to be successful, and opening it up as a "public option" would guarantee Minnesotans at least one high-quality, affordable option for health insurance on the individual market – something that's not currently available for everyone.

"This proposal is affordable, forces no caps on enrollment, and has no geographic restrictions," Rep. Clark Johnson, a Democrat from North Mankato, wrote in an editorial published in the St. Peter Herald. "MinnesotaCare has already served hundreds of thousands of people; it’s time to offer it to all Minnesotans."

Arguments against it

But those who oppose the bill don't think a "public option" is the way to go. National Public Radio says Republicans think opening up MinnesotaCare would lead to fewer providers on the private insurance market, and care wouldn't be as readily available – especially in areas where options are already limited.

During a conference call Monday morning, Democratic lawmakers say they have spoken to Republican colleagues who have indicated they are open to considering Dayton's proposal. Others have said Republicans aren't very likely to agree on a public option for MinnesotaCare.

Health care providers are also likely to oppose the proposal, with the Star Tribune saying they get lower reimbursement rates from MinnesotaCare than they do from private plans.

Dayton's hope is the Legislature will give the OK to this proposal by April 1 so he can sign it. That way it would be enough time for the state to offer the MinnesotaCare buy-in coverage for the 2018 open enrollment period, slated for this fall.

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