Update: Help with health insurance costs is on the way

Not in the agreement? A proposal that would have let health insurance that doesn't meet Affordable Care Act requirements be sold in the state.
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7:45 p.m. – Gov. Dayton signs it into law

Gov. Mark Dayton followed through by signing the bill when it reached him.

Dayton said in a statement he appreciates that lawmakers agreed to provide the premium relief quickly.

Dayton does not agree with everything in the law. In particular he says the change allowing foreign or for-profit insurance companies into Minnesota was not adequately reviewed.

But he also said some complimentary things about what the House and Senate did and concluded: “The Legislature and I must now turn our attention to making good health care coverage available and affordable for all Minnesotans."

4:43 p.m. – House gives the thumbs up too

And after all that back-and-forth for weeks on end, a bill is now headed to the governor's desk.

The Republican-controlled House Thursday afternoon also passed the conference committee agreement, by a 108-19 vote. There was again a debate about the for-profit HMO part of the bill.

So what's next? Well it's up to Gov. Mark Dayton to sign it into law (or veto it). But he's indicated he will sign it.

1:25 p.m. – Senate gives it the OK

The Senate passed the conference committee agreement by a 47-19 vote Thursday afternoon.

There was an effort by Democrats to send it back to the committee, mainly over concerns about allowing for-profit health insurance companies to operate in the state. But it was voted down.

The House is expected to vote around 3:30 p.m.

Original story

We might be nearing the end of our long, tortured path to finding financial help for the 125,000 or so Minnesotans who are facing steep health insurance premium hikes.

For months, Democrats, Republicans and Gov. Mark Dayton have gone back and forth on ways to help these people – they buy insurance through the individual market (so via MNsure or directly from an insurance company), but make too much money to qualify for tax credits that bring down the cost.

After failing to get them help in a theoretical special session last year, the Republican-controlled House and Senate this month passed different versions of a help plan. And on Wednesday, lawmakers from both chambers were able to hammer out an agreement to make their bills match, Session Daily says.

The House and Senate have both indicated they could do a full floor vote Thursday.

If the agreement bill passes, that means it goes to Dayton. His signature would make it become law.

You can read the text of the agreement here. But here's a quick breakdown of how much money the state would spend, and what else made it in.

So what does the bill include?

$312 million will be used to cover 25 percent of eligible people's premiums.

There's no built-in sliding scale after three months that moves it to 20 percent or 30 percent, based on income – an idea that was in House Republicans' bill. But there is a clause that says, if it looks like that fund will run out of money over the last four months of the year, the Minnesota Management and Budget commissioner can adjust the premium rebate percentage.

How will it be paid for?

The money will be pulled from the state's "Rainy Day" reserve fund, which had $1.5 billion in it as of September 2016.

The state will give that money to the insurance companies, who will then dole it out accordingly to customers.

Is anything else in the bill?

Yes. The state will spend another $15 million to help ease the cost of switching plans for customers who have serious illnesses, or are beyond the first term of a pregnancy.

The state will also allow for-profit HMOs to operate on the individual marketplace in Minnesota – something Democrats have been wary of. Though Republican Rep. Joe Hoppe, according to Session Daily, said it's to help be prepared for whatever happens with healthcare on the federal level.

This agreement also includes some help for agricultural cooperative health plans, aimed at farmers.

It does not include $150 million in reinsurance that had been in the Senate's bill – money that would have gone to insurance companies to help them recoup costs for expensive consumers.

No offering coverage that doesn't meet requirements

Many Democrats had been concerned about an amendment introduced in the House bill last week. It would have let health insurance companies opt out of offering plans that meet federal Affordable Care Act requirements, like this list of things insurers can choose whether or not to cover. So things like maternity benefits, diabetes coverage, mental health, specialty care and more could have been left off health plans.

That did not make it into Wednesday's agreement, however. Health insurance companies will still have to meet Affordable Care Act requirements.

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