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Sen. Michele Benson, R-Ham Lake, said Dayton had "made a promise he couldn't keep," and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt called the decision "disrespectful."

Dayton backs insurers on discontinued plans

Mark Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton initially supported the plan to continue existing coverage.(Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Gov. Mark Dayton announced on Monday that the forced continuation of certain insurance plans in 2014 is “unworkable.” An estimated 140,000 Minnesotans risk losing their existing insurance programs under the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and last week President Barack Obama said he would support an extension of current plans for one year. Dayton was initially supportive of that provision, but reversed course yesterday following a letter he received on behalf of the state’s major insurance organizations.

The DFL governor’s announcement was quickly criticized by Republicans, who said he had gone back on his word.

In his statement, Dayton told of having received a letter from Julie Brunner, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, which represents the largest insurance companies in the state, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, UCare and Medica. Brunner wrote that the insurers believe the pricing, regulation and communications efforts involved in relaunching the discontinued plans would cause “major market disruptions” to MNsure, the state-run insurance exchange that began offering 2014 coverage plans on Oct. 1.

Brunner went on to warn that enforcing the change could ultimately lead to higher premium costs for customers buying insurance in the individual market.

The case Brunner made was evidently convincing to Dayton, who wrote back that participation from insurance companies was a “critical” facet in creating a successful and affordable marketplace.

“I share your view that Minnesotans seeking affordable coverage with strong consumer protections are best served by MNsure, our state-based health insurance marketplace,” Dayton wrote.

Dayton went on to write that he had instructed Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman to continue to implement MNsure as previously planned.

Initially, the healthcare overhaul was crafted to force insurance companies to meet certain higher standards for coverage. But those new plans have often come with a higher price tag for consumers, and Obama had faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans over his previous assertion that Americans would be able to keep their current insurance if they preferred.

Dayton’s statement was soon met with strongly worded responses from Republicans. Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said Dayton had “made a promise he couldn’t keep,” and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt called the decision “disrespectful” to Minnesotans.

“I’m disappointed Governor Dayton isn’t willing to allow Minnesotans to keep the plan and doctor of their choosing,” Daudt said.

For his part, House Speaker Paul Thissen issued a statement in Dayton’s defense, saying the ultimate ambition of healthcare reform is to help eliminate “meaningless” insurance plans from the marketplace.

“Our goal is to make sure Minnesotans can get coverage even when they get sick,” Thissen said. He added: “Governor Dayton’s  decision ensures we stay on course toward real health care at a better price for more Minnesotans.”

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