With thousands of Minnesotans facing more expensive health insurance rates, Minnesota lawmakers are once again talking about maybe getting together to do something about it. If they can agree on the next move.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced last month that the cost of individual health insurance will go up by 50-67 percent in 2017. That prompted Gov. Mark Dayton to say the Obama Administration’s landmark Affordable Care Act is “no longer affordable.”
Minnesota Republicans have proposed a fix that includes getting rid of the state’s health insurance exchange and switching to the federal one. DFLers meanwhile asked for a special legislative session to pass a supplemental tax credit – which Republican Senate Leader David Hann called a "political stunt."
OK, so where do things stand?
The only person who can call a special session is Dayton.
On Friday, he put out a statement saying he'd be open to doing so, if a couple criteria are met.
- The top two Democrats and top two Republicans have to have an agreed-upon plan in place that they can pass.
- And that plan needs to be set by Nov. 1 – the day open enrollment starts again.
“In this emergency for some Minnesotans and their families, I am hopeful that DFL and Republican legislators will be able to set aside the politics of the Affordable Care Act, work together, and find a short-term solution for those in crisis," Dayton said. "It is now time to walk the talk and agree upon a solution to provide much-needed relief."
Who would get relief?
In the grand scheme of things, most Minnesotans won't be affected by the insurance rate increases – only those who buy individual or family health insurance plans through MNsure, through an insurance agent, or through an insurance company directly.
But even within that, most of those buyers will be eligible for tax credits that will keep the actual amount they pay each month low.
The problem comes for the people who aren't eligible for tax credits.
Dayton said that's about 2 percent of Minnesotans – approximately 120,000 people who purchase plans on the individual market. He said while the Affordable Care Act is working for the 98 percent of other Minnesotans, it's those 2 percent with incomes too high to get a tax credit through MNsure who need help.
The governor's proposal
The governor Friday offered his own proposal for short-term help.
It involves taking $313 million – which is supposed to go to the state's Rainy Day backup fund, for tough times – and use it to provide financial help to Minnesotans who face steep rate hikes.
"The Reserve is intended for ‘Rainy Days.’ Right now, it is pouring on some Minnesotans," Dayton said in the statement.
Nobody is happy about the rate hikes, by the way. As soon as they were announced, Dayton, Democrats and Republicans all talked about how unhappy they were with another year of increase.
Even the Department of Commerce said something needs to change, writing there's an “urgent need” to reform the individual market.
“The dramatic rate increases facing Minnesotans who purchase their own health insurance is unsustainable and unfair,” it said.
Dayton regrets how his comments were used
One more short note:
Dayton's comment that the Affordable Care Act is “no longer affordable" was quickly picked up and used by people who oppose the health care law. The governor on Friday commented on that, saying:
"I regret that my statement was wrongly used against Democratic candidates in Minnesota and elsewhere. Yesterday, President Obama said: ‘Just because a lot of the Republican criticism has been proven to be false and politically motivated, doesn’t mean there aren’t some legitimate concerns about how the law is working now.’ I agree."