Dayton urges legislators to agree on a fix for rising health premiums

Published 7:01 am Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday urged legislative leaders to set aside ideological differences and work on a short-term fix to ease the sting of rising premiums next year for the roughly 120,000 Minnesotans who buy health care coverage through the state’s individual market.

If legislators can agree on a plan by Nov. 1, Dayton said he would call a special session. He said the timing and location of a special session would be complicated, but signaled it would be best to call one after the election.

“In this emergency for some Minnesotans and their families, I am hopeful that DFL and Republican legislators will be able to set aside the politics of the Affordable Care Act, work together, and find a short-term solution for those in crisis,” the governor said.

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Thousands of Minnesotans who purchase coverage through the state-sponsored health care exchange learned earlier this month that they are facing premium increases of more than 50 percent. State regulators also implemented enrollment caps to avoid a collapse of the market where roughly 5 percent of state residents purchase health insurance coverage.

In a statement, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said House Republicans were “committed to working quickly on ways to reduce costs and address the health care crisis Democrats created.”

He added: “It is my hope we can find areas of agreement and provide needed relief to Minnesotans suffering from the effects of Obamacare.”

Senate DFL spokeswoman Amelia Cerling said that Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, had asked Daudt to take a look at the caucus’ tax credit proposal and that Daudt had said he would.

Emerging proposals by House Republicans and Senate DFLers would need to be reconciled to Dayton’s satisfaction before he calls a special session. Under state law, only the governor can call for an emergency legislative session.

Senate DFL leaders on Thursday had called on Dayton to convene lawmakers, touching off a round of recriminations by Republican leaders who called it a political ploy coming less than three weeks before the election.

Comments made last week by Dayton that the Affordable Care Act is “no longer affordable to increasing numbers of people” have been used against Democrats in political ads, underscoring the heightened political tensions.

The governor said he spoke with Obama administration officials the day after he made his remarks, later cited by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to clarify what he meant.

“Here we are, less than three weeks from the election and that white-hot political atmosphere is going to be a big stretch for legislators to set aside their politics and focus on what we can do to relieve this burden on Minnesotans,” Dayton said. “I hope the urgency of the situation, that number of people who will be severely affected by this next year, will be sufficient to enable them to set aside the politics and focus on policy.”

Dayton is proposing diverting $313 million of surplus state dollars earmarked for the state’s rainy-day fund to use as financial assistance, possibly in the form of refundable tax credits. That would require legislative action, but the DFL governor insisted that premium increases constitute a legitimate use of the state’s rainy-day fund.

“Right now, those funds I believe can and should be used for this present emergency,” Dayton said.

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