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House, Senate OK compromise health insurance relief package

By Ricky Campbell
House Photography file photo

Legislators overwhelmingly agreed Thursday to a nearly $327 million compromise intended to assist Minnesotans struggling with swelling health insurance premium costs.

A day after a coalition of lawmakers approved a legislative package with input from Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration, both the Senate and the House passed HF1/ SF1*: the Senate 47-19 and House 108-19.

The bill’s next stop is Dayton’s desk, and the governor has said publicly he will sign it.

Calling it a compromise, Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) said, “We’re going to keep working on reform. … I think the governor is going to sign this bill. I think we did something good for the people of Minnesota.” Hoppe sponsors the proposal with Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake).

More than 100,000 customers in the state-run individual insurance marketplace suffered sticker shock months ago when they saw their premiums increase by as much as 67 percent. Thanks in part to the new relief package, those customers would receive a 25 percent subsidy from insurance providers, paid for by the state.

Rep. Joe Hoppe makes final comments about the conference committee report on HF1/SF1* Jan. 26 on the House Floor. The bill, sponsored by Hoppe and Sen Michelle Benson, would, in part, provide for a temporary health insurance premium payment assistance program. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The bill would require health carriers to subsidize qualifying customers’ premiums then seek a reimbursement from the state. It would pull $326.9 million out of the state’s budget reserves and assign up to $311.9 million of that for the premium relief.

The remaining $15 million would cover transition care for individual market customers who have new health plans but are continuing treatment for acute conditions, life-threatening mental or physical illnesses, pregnancy beyond the first trimester and other disabling or chronic conditions in acute phases.

Providers would be required to apply the discounts to customers’ bills by April 30.

A number of reforms are included in the legislative package. One, however, was a point of contention for DFLers who didn’t want to see for-profit HMOs enter the state-run individual marketplace dominated by non-profits.

“There is no evidence that this will stabilize the insurance market,” Rep. Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth) said. “I support premium relief … but instead of focusing on immediate relief, Republicans insisted on reforms to benefit corporations.”

“Minnesotans desperately need relief from rising premiums on the individual market,” Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) said in a statement. “But the Republican solution is to allow big insurance companies to take even more money out of the pockets of struggling families. This bill guarantees that in the years to come, health insurance companies will put profits over people.”

Greater Minnesota legislators pushed for ways to help small communities, farmers and others who have witnessed the individual market shrink significantly. One reform would allow farmers and agribusinesses to work with providers to establish agricultural cooperative health plans. Another modification would allow hospitals and clinics to contest the way insurance providers select their network.

“I’m glad that we were able to get the things into the bill that actually matter, that matter to Minnesotans,” Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) said.

Some lawmakers raised concerns over a previous provision that would have allowed health insurance companies to sidestep the federal Affordable Care Act’s requirements and provide any plan they wanted. Although it was included in the initial House package, it wasn’t part of the conference committee agreement.

Another measure that would spend $150 million for a reinsurance program – basically insuring the insurance companies – wasn’t included, either.

HF5, which establishes the reinsurance program for a yet unknown cost, is awaiting action by the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. It has no Senate companion.

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