By Rep. Joe McDonald
The 2016 session begins March 8 amid a massive restoration of our century-old Capitol in St. Paul.
Cass Gilbert's exceptional architecture provides a solid foundation on which improvements can be made to this state icon. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the blueprint of MNsure, Minnesota's version of Obamacare, as we consider ways of overhauling that program.
The government's health care insurance endeavor is more than three years old, yet its footing remains wobbly. MNsure still is ineffective in performing its core objective of providing Minnesotans with access to affordable health insurance. To the contrary, the basic enrollment process remains full of headaches and those "lucky" enough to successfully sign up are seeing their rates spike time and again.
Remember how MNsure advocates said they would drive down rates? The average family of four with a middle-of-the-road policy has seen its premium rise by $326 per month in just two years.
And how they said we could keep our doctor? People have been forced off their policies, separated from their doctors of choice.
Furthermore, they said the MNsure shopping experience would be as smooth as Travelocity or Amazon? The reality is Minnesotans have faced miles of red tape, security breaches, endless hours stuck on hold, disappearing applications and unacceptably slow customer service.
And, now, the latest reports indicate improper payments to ineligible MNsure public program enrollees have resulted in between $115-$271 million in wasted taxpayer dollars.
This is not what the MNsure advocates promised when they sold this to the public and addressing this issue is a top priority of mine in the 2016 session.
Minnesota already had very good programs in place to help people who needed a hand. We were viewed as a national leader. Now, Democrats burned down the house to stay warm and we need to ask ourselves why we continue throwing money into this crumbling system's pit.
Republicans have offered improvements from the day Democrats started building MNsure, only to be ignored. We will continue working for solutions, even if it means following other states that have abandoned their own failing programs to enter the federal exchange.
I will remain close to this subject as vice chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. Stay tuned for more as the session develops. Until then, here are just a few other items to watch in 2016:
TAXES: The House also passed a tax bill which would have provided $2 billion in tax relief, only to have that package stall in late-session negotiations. A projected surplus state surplus could breathe new life into some of these provisions in 2016. A good place to start would be ending Minnesota’s practice of taxing our seniors’ Social Security retirement benefits. We also should work to lower property taxes for families and small businesses, along with providing relief for farmers.
TRANSPORTATION: The governor has acknowledged his unpopular plan to raise the gas tax is unlikely to pass the Legislature, but House and Senate Democrats continue insisting on it. House Republicans have shown a gas tax is unnecessary – especially with $1.2 billion in surplus revenue available for issues such as this. Last year, the House passed a $7 billion, 10-year transportation plan that did not raise taxes, but it stalled over the insistence of some that we raise the gas tax. One popular provision from the House package that deserves another look directs tax dollars we already pay when purchasing auto parts and repair services toward fixing roads and replace aging bridges. However the details shake out, the top priority for transportation spending should be to improve of our existing roads and bridges.
BONDING: Even-numbered years are when the state assembles its largest bonding bills, which fund infrastructure projects throughout the state. Proposals add up to more than $3 billion and Gov. Mark Dayton recently issued a $1.4 billion plan. I advocate for a bill that is significantly smaller, especially since any bonding bill this year is on top of the $173 million bill that was enacted in 2015.
This is just a sampling of issues we expect to surface in 2016 and I will address others as we progress. Your feedback on the issues always is appreciated.
Rep. Joe McDonald