Dan Sparks: Buy-in would give residents quality options

Published 9:00 am Sunday, March 5, 2017

Senate Report by Dan Sparks

This legislative session has been a busy one so far. After receiving the February budget forecast this week, I felt it was important to update constituents on the current health care debate. Mid-January saw the passage of a bill that funded a 25 percent reduction in premiums for all 125,000 Minnesotans who purchase their health insurance through MNsure. This plan is simple — and will get premium relief to Minnesotans this spring.

In February, the governor came out with a new proposal called the MinnesotaCare buy-in option. This plan would provide Minnesotans with a high-quality, affordable health care option. The proposal would allow individuals and families buying insurance on the individual market, of any income level, to buy into MinnesotaCare. New enrollees would pay a non-subsidized premium, leaving the program unchanged for those currently enrolled.

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MinnesotaCare is a bipartisan health insurance solution that has worked for 25 years, providing high-quality, low-cost insurance to more than 100,000 working Minnesotans. Currently, this program is available only to Minnesotans who do not get insurance through their employer, or another public program, and earn less than 200 percent poverty or approximately $38,000 for a family of two and just shy of $50,000 for a family of four.

I think that opening this program up to more Minnesotans is a common-sense option for people who have little to no choice when it comes to health insurance. This option would give Minnesotans access to affordable, high-quality health insurance with no on-going costs to tax payers.

MinnesotaCare buy-in would also bankroll itself — requiring no additional taxpayer funds, after one-time setup costs. After that, the program would be funded entirely through premiums paid by Minnesotans who purchase MinnesotaCare coverage.

If the plan were approved by April 1, MinnesotaCare plans would be available for Minnesotans to purchase during the 2018 open enrollment period. If the Legislature fails to pass changes to the individual market before April 1, Minnesotans who faced steep premium increases this year would see no relief beyond the $300 million in one-time premium relief passed in January of this year.

This proposal was actually included in the Senate’s 2016 supplemental budget bill, and was part of a package of recommendations from the bipartisan Health Care Financing Task Force, aimed at making health insurance more affordable in the individual market. The bill was given its first hearing, this year, in the Senate Health and Humans Services Finance and Policy Committee during the last week of February.

Living in Greater Minnesota, our health insurance options are especially limited. MinnesotaCare buy-in would give consumers choice and provide much-needed marketplace competition, to keep costs low. The average cost would be $69 less per month than the average statewide premium Minnesotans are currently paying for private coverage or a 12 percent savings. However, for people with fewer options — like those living in southern Minnesota — the average monthly savings could be much higher — closer to $485 per month on average.

With relatively minimal startup costs, I am supportive of the MinnesotaCare option, unless Republicans have a new, unannounced plan they are still working on, in which case I am open to that discussion. What’s important, is that the Legislature do more than just the one-time fix we funded in January. With the February budget forecast announcement of a $1.65 billion surplus, we know we have more than enough money to work with — we just need to be willing to work together to find solutions for Minnesotans.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the District 27 senator.