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Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, presides over the House Taxes Committee on March 7. Davids is the author of House File 5, the health care reinsurance bill that was set for a House floor vote Monday. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, presides over the House Taxes Committee on March 7. Davids is the author of House File 5, the health care reinsurance bill that was set for a House floor vote Monday. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

In the Hopper: Reinsurance moves ahead; Real (gone) ID; fake cops

Reinsurance moves ahead: A bill to protect health insurers from hyper-expensive individual medical claims cleared its final House committee Wednesday. It was scheduled for a House floor vote Monday.

House File 5 creates a reinsurance program — essentially government-backed insurance for health insurance companies.

In House Ways and Means Committee testimony last week, the measure was characterized by its author, Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, as desperately needed. Without it, he said, Minnesota’s access to individually purchased health insurance might disappear next year.

Commerce Department Commissioner Mike Rothman on Wednesday urged lawmakers to pass the bill quickly so the governor can sign it by April 1. That would give carriers time to take the program into account as they set 2018 individual-market premiums, he said.

The program would cost the state about $384 million for the 2018-19 biennium, according to House Chief Fiscal Analyst Bill Marx. Roughly $240 million of that funding would come from the state’s Health Care Access Fund, which finances the MinnesotaCare insurance program for low-income Minnesotans.

The rest would flow from state’s general fund. Marx said.

Testimony during a March 6 House Health and Human Services Finance Committee meeting revealed that the program does not require insurance carriers to lower their premiums as a condition of receiving state-financed protection from costly medical claims.

Kathryn Kmit, policy and government affairs director for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, admitted Monday that even with reinsurance in place, 2018 premium rates might rise again next year. “I think that is a possible outcome,” she said. “There is just too much uncertainty.”

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, objected to the reinsurance bill’s lack of guaranteed premium decreases. “This is to me a very troubling plan,” she said. “I don’t think it meets the goals of what we all want to do, which is to make sure that people have quality health care at a price they can afford.”

Davids replied that he is confident insurers will decrease rates in 2018. “I have seen some projections,” he said. “But I am not going to publicly state those, because as soon as you give that number you are going to be held to that number.”

He also said that as Congress moves forward with Obamacare replacement legislation, federal funding for the program likely will surface. A provision in the current federal bill provides grant money specifically for state reinsurance programs, he said.

The reinsurance plan would be administered by the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association board. It sets a minimum “attachment point” — the individual claim cost at which the state’s co-insurance funding kicks in — at $50,000 or above. Insurers would be on the hook for costs over $250,000 per claim.

The bill passed Ways and Means by a divided voice vote; only Liebling voted no. With that, it headed off to the House for Monday’s scheduled floor vote.

Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, said she was poised to vote for the Senate Real ID bill on March 6 until it became overly politicized on the Senate Floor. The bill was defeated 38-29. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, said she was poised to vote for the Senate Real ID bill on March 6 until it became overly politicized on the Senate Floor. The bill was defeated 38-29. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Real (gone) ID: Senate GOP leaders were sent scrambling last week to figure out how to pass Real ID legislation after the Senate on March 6 gave the long-delayed legislation yet another thumbs down.

The federal government has set January 2018 as the deadline for states to approve federally compliant secure driver’s licenses and ID cards. Without Real IDs, Minnesotans face the prospect of being refused access to airliners, military bases, even White House tours.

The state instituted a Real ID ban in 2009, citing privacy concerns and fear of federal government overreach. Shadows of those worried surfaced on the Senate floor March 6. But this time concern seemed aimed at state government.

As debate began, Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, offered an amendment that would trigger a state Real ID repeal if the federal government either substantially changes Real ID’s purpose or repeals its own law. That passed with a simple voice vote.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, both offered amendments that would remove rulemaking authority restrictions on the state Department of Public Safety. Departmental rulemaking authority typically is needed to implement complex laws passed by the Legislature.

The bill as written by Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, would allow Public Safety to issue both federally complaint and state-accepted but federally noncompliant ID cards. But it would strictly limit the department’s rulemaking authority to “technical aspects” of its implementation—forbidding any non-technical modifications.

DFL attempts to change the language were killed in two 33-33 tie votes.

Latz argued that language could result in lawsuits over the meaning of the word “technical” during implementation.

Pratt argued that the restrictions were politically necessary. “It avoids temptation to politicize this entire issue,” Pratt said. “What the current language does is take away the temptation to bring other issues into the Real ID discussion.”

He appeared to be referencing statements from Gov. Mark Dayton, who recently urged lawmakers to secure noncompliant IDs and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

That argument was a bridge too far for Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, who said she had come prepared to vote yes.

“This bill is supposed to be about compliance and it became a bill about restricting individuals in our state,” she said. “Enough is enough. We don’t need more people to be afraid of other people in our state.”

The Senate voted the bill down, 38-29, with five Republicans joining all the Democrats. The House had approved its version, 72-58, on Feb. 23.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, has pledged to huddle with other legislative leaders to find a way to pass Real ID before the federal deadline. But Latz, a former assistant state attorney general, said in an interview that he is dubious about the prospects of that happening.

 

Fake cops: Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, wants people who get caught playing cop to feel a little more legal sting. He also wants to make it harder to do in the first place.

His House File 839 would make it a gross misdemeanor to impersonate a police officer. Currently, that offense is a simple misdemeanor.

The bill also restricts the colors of uniforms that security guards can wear, and the design and color of cars they can drive — expect to see a lot of gray on your friendly neighborhood mall cop if the bill passes.

The changes are intended to set security guards and police farther apart visually, making it more difficult for someone to successfully pass for a cop.

Zerwas’ bill was presented March 2 at a Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee meeting. There Lakeville Police Chief Jeff Long described a years-long struggle his department has had with a resident who likes to dress like a cop and deck out his cars to resemble patrol cruisers.

In one harrowing instance, the man accosted a woman who was parked waiting for her husband in a Burnsville parking lot in 2015, Long said. The man interrogated her, took her ID and wrote down her information, then sat in his car staring at her. Becoming suspicious, she eventually called the real police.

Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts testified in committee on March 2 in support of House File 839. That bill would make it a gross misdemeanor to impersonate a police officer. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts testified in committee on March 2 in support of House File 839. That bill would make it a gross misdemeanor to impersonate a police officer. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts, representing the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association, told committee members about another man who was caught pretending to be a police officer during the 2015 search for a murdered Crystal boy, Barway Collins. In that case, the fake cop actually briefed TV news crews, Potts said.

“This guy was not a cop, but he did things to mislead community and the law enforcement community working on the case,” Potts said. “That is just not helpful in our efforts to build trust.”

The bill received no committee vote, but was laid over for possible inclusion in the Public Safety omnibus bill. Its companion, Senate File 617, has yet to be heard by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

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