Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday said he was willing to call a special session if legislative leaders would “set aside the politics of the Affordable Care Act” and agree on a short-term solution for Minnesotans facing steep increases in health insurance costs before Nov. 1.
In a statement, the governor proposed using $313 million, currently scheduled to be added to the state’s $1.9 billion reserve Dec. 2, to provide financial assistance to Minnesotans who face excessive premium increases but do not qualify for federal tax credits.
“The reserve is intended for ‘Rainy Days.’ Right now, it is pouring on some Minnesotans,” Dayton’s statement said.
Dayton’s statement said he regretted that Republican political campaigns had “wrongly used” his comment a week earlier that the Affordable Care act “is no longer affordable to increasing numbers of people.”
“For the 95 percent of Minnesotans who are covered through the Medicaid expansion, MinnesotaCare, or their employer, the law is working,” Dayton’s statement said. “It’s working for the 3 percent who qualify for the federal tax credits through MNsure. But the law isn’t working well for the 2 percent of Minnesotans in the individual market, who don’t receive any financial assistance to pay for their coverage.”
Dayton urged House and Senate leaders to work with his administration on a plan to help Minnesotans who are not eligible for federal tax credits.
“That plan should be agreed upon before November 1st, so that the Minnesotans needing our help can know what it will be, before the Open Enrollment Period begins,” Dayton’s statement said. “After the four caucuses have agreed upon a plan and their four leaders, the Lt. Governor, and I have agreed to the parameters of a special session, I will call it.”
Dayton’s statement came a day after Senate Democrats urged Dayton to call a special session to address rising health care costs.
Democrats, who control the Senate, held a press conference Thursday afternoon where they laid out their plans. “The DFL Senate would like a special session,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said at the gathering. “If it can be convened before the election, we would like to do it before the election.”
That request adds to mounting pressure on the governor and the Legislature to step in and fix the individual insurance market and the state’s online health care exchange where those plans are sold, MNsure.
MNsure rate increases for 2017 range from 50 percent to 67 percent for Minnesotans who aren’t covered through employers or public programs. Top state regulators have expressed concern that the market can’t survive without fixes.
DFL leaders said Thursday viable solutions have already been developed that could offer a short-term fix and avoid making people pay the skyrocketing premiums set to go into effect in January.
Bakk said that the special session’s mission, as envisioned by DFL leaders, would be narrow in scope. It would borrow tax-credit provisions from a bill offered in the 2016 regular session by Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, and its companion version by Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston.
The tax credits would help to buy down premiums, Bakk said. Passing a stripped-down version of the Schmit-Davids bill in special session, he said, would take “all or most of the sting out of the most recent premium increases.”
Bakk said he was hopeful that House Republicans would agree to the proposal. “It’s a pretty easy bill to put together because the framework is already there,” he said.
Afterward, he said, the Legislature could get to work during the 2017 regular session on long-term, bipartisan solutions to MNsure’s problems.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, issued a statement later in the day offering what appeared to be mixed signals.
“House Republicans are open to any and all ideas that will reduce health care costs and fix the crisis Democrats have created on MNsure and the individual market,” Daudt said.
However, he then added, “Press conferences that seem aimed more at political cover than serious, short and long-term solutions won’t do Minnesotans any good.”
Senate Republicans were more directly dismissive. Even before the press conference convened Thursday, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, issued a statement calling it “a political stunt.”
“For three years they’ve done nothing to fix the serious problems Minnesotans have been facing,” Hann said in his statement. “They’ve blamed insurance companies for following the very laws they imposed and now they’re proposing Band-Aid solutions that won’t create long term stability and lower costs.”
Daudt noted that, two weeks ago, House Republicans unveiled their own list of proposed solutions to “expand choices to encourage competition and lower costs for families facing higher premium bills.”
The House Republican Caucus issued a separate statement Thursday, complaining that Democrats in Thursday’s press conference failed to mention a set of recommendations by the legislative Task Force on Health Care Financing, which Republicans say contain billions of dollar in health care tax increases.
“Minnesotans deserve to know,” caucus members said. “Do Democrats believe higher taxes are the answer to bringing down costs?”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.