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Dayton’s new insurance remedy: rebates

Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday proposed 25 percent rebates on health insurance premiums to help Minnesotans affected by the state’s health insurance crisis.

Dayton’s plan would reduce premiums by 25 percent for an estimated 123,000 Minnesotans who buy insurance on the individual market but who are not eligible for federal tax credits to offset premium hikes because their incomes are too high.

Dayton said Thursday that his plan, which would provide monthly rebates during calendar year 2017, would reduce rate increases on the individual insurance market from 55 percent to 16 percent on average, and reduce average monthly premium bills by 25 percent.

He said that those whose incomes qualify them for tax credits can still receive significant financial assistance by purchasing coverage through the MNsure exchange. He said an estimated 100,000 such Minnesotans have not taken advantage of that option.

Dayton urged legislative leaders to act on his plan quickly because open enrollment on the MNsure exchange begins Nov. 1.

“We have to be able to start it and administer it under severe time constraints,” he said. “Those realities greatly limit our options.”

He said the program must provide immediate financial assistance and can cost no more than the $313 million that he previously suggested should be used to buy down excessive premium hikes. That money is otherwise scheduled to be added to the state’s $1.9 billion reserve fund on Dec. 2.

“If anyone has a better plan, which meets the above three objectives, we are all ears,” Dayton said.

Republicans who control the state House have offered up tax credits to offset the increases, along with other policies to expand health insurance access in rural Minnesota. For instance, their plan includes provisions to allow sole proprietorships to purchase group coverage and to allow Minnesotans to purchase non-qualified health plans that do not meet all Affordable Care Act standards.

Dayton’s proposal arrived one day after a Wednesday press conference where House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, issued a fiery condemnation of Dayton’s entire health care policy.

Declaring that there might be no way to prevent some Minnesotans from being denied health coverage on Jan. 1, Daudt accused Dayton of knowing about the crisis well ahead of time and hiding that information from Minnesotans.

Daudt threatened to call for Dayton’s resignation, and doubled down on that threat once before backing off momentarily. Finally, asked under what circumstances he might call for Dayton to resign, Daudt said, “If he doesn’t step up and show some leadership to actually solve these problems. This is a full-blown crisis. Is there anybody who doesn’t believe that?”

“I’m not going to dignify the speaker’s remarks with a rejoinder,” Dayton said during a Thursday teleconference.

“If we are going to resolve this problem for people who need this help,” he added, “we have got to set aside our political rhetoric and attacks and deal with this immediately.”

Rep. Greg Davids, a top Republican in the Minnesota House, credited the governor for putting a plan on the table, but echoed Daudt’s Wednesday remarks by saying that lawmakers also need to boost health insurance access.

Both men said they fear that with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota scheduled to exit the market in 2017 and several insurers limiting their enrollment, many people won’t be able to purchase health coverage in January.

Under Dayton’s plan, state financial help would be available only to people making too much money to get federal support. But unlike federal tax credits, the state rebate wouldn’t vary based on income — a single person making $48,000 annually would get the same rebate as someone who earns $1 million.

Dayton said he would prefer to tie the rebate to income, but he said the state didn’t have enough time to structure a program that way before January.

During Thursday’s teleconference, Dayton indicated that he had called all four caucus leaders Thursday but spoke only with Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. He left messages for Daudt, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

Bakk responded with a written statement late Thursday, thanking Dayton for his “shared urgency.” He said he spoke with Daudt Thursday about the new proposals and ways to pay for them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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