Four steps to taking control of rising health care costs

Published 5:55 am Tuesday, November 26, 2019

By Doug Loon

President of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Health insurance gives people peace of mind that they can take care of themselves from preventative care to medical crisis. Providing coverage for quality care at an affordable price also is a priority for employers to attract and retain workers in our historically tight labor market and to ensure their employees stay healthy and productive.

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Good public policy can make a difference. For example, the state’s reinsurance program that passed the Legislature in 2017 was a bipartisan measure that reduced premiums in the individual health insurance market by 20 percent in both 2018 and 2019. The good news continues as reinsurance was extended two years this past legislative session.

By Doug Loon, President of the  Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

The Minnesota Chamber worked at the Legislature to get the reinsurance program passed in 2017 and to secure its extension at the Capitol this year. That’s because the individual market is an important outlet for Minnesota’s self-employed entrepreneurs and, increasingly, for many very small employers who help their employees buy their own policies in the individual market.

Those who buy individual and family health plans through MNsure or directly from health insurers will see premiums remain steady or decline in 2020, thanks to the extension of reinsurance. Let’s continue the momentum in the 2020 legislative session to improve quality, keep health care costs in check, and encourage the spread of more options for accessing care.

Here are four common-sense steps for lawmakers to consider – all of which should enjoy broad, bipartisan support:

• Establish an independent health policy commission to identify cost-drivers and recommend reforms. Independent experts and stakeholders from across the broad spectrum of the health care sector would regularly report to the Legislature and the public. The commission would benchmark Minnesota’s health care costs compared with other states and make recommendations about how to curtail rising costs in our public programs and the commercial market.

• Modernize the Minnesota Health Records Act to make it easier for providers to share pertinent medical information. Aligning state law with the federal law will improve care and reduce costs.

• Require a cost-benefit analysis be completed before any proposal is considered to add more insurance mandates to state law. Minnesota already requires the policies that health insurers sell to cover more than 60 benefits one of the longest lists of required benefits in the country. Large employers tend to insure their workers under federal law. As a result, these state mandates negatively impact small employers. Research shows the average mandate increases premiums by .44 percent to 1.11 percent annually.

• Encourage the use of “direct primary care” arrangements, where individuals gain access to unlimited primary care services through a flat monthly fee. Establishing a clear framework in state law about how these relationships and agreements are to work will protect patients and providers and will encourage the spread and availability of such arrangements.

Rising health care costs matter to all of us.

Let’s build on the success of the state’s reinsurance program and take additional, meaningful steps during the 2020 session to take the next common-sense steps toward improvements in the quality, affordability, and accessibility of care that works for all of us.