Adding MinnesotaCare option avoids insurance giveaway

March 22, 2017

It is no secret Minnesota’s individual health insurance market is fragile. In St. Paul, lawmakers are attempting to stabilize the market, but in two very different ways. Republican lawmakers have focused on policies that limit coverage for Minnesotans and create taxpayer paid subsidies that benefit insurance companies (they call these subsidies “reinsurance”).

Gov. Dayton and DFLers, on the other hand, are focusing on providing Minnesotans in the individual health insurance market with access to quality, affordable health care coverage through the MinnesotaCare Buy-In.

Twice this year, Republican lawmakers pushed legislation to allow insurance companies to limit which kinds of coverage they will offer. Just a few examples of the care insurers will not be required to offer on every plan, if Minnesota Republican policies become law, include:

Chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients

Diabetes treatment

Mental health services

Obstetrics and gynecologic services

Antipsychotic drugs

Children’s health services – including immunizations

Treatment for Lyme disease

This comes at a time when Minnesotans, especially those in Greater Minnesota, already face not only limited access to health care insurance, but not nearly enough choices in their health care plans. Making it even harder for Minnesotans to get the care they need at a cost they can afford is just wrong.

The second leg of the Republican lawmakers’ plans is “reinsurance.” The cost to Minnesota taxpayers for this program could be as high as $600 million over the course of two years, with no guarantees premiums would be reduced – a substantial cost with no sure benefit for Minnesota’s residents.

At their core, both of the Republican policies prioritize insurance companies over people. But there is a better way.

DFLers are focused on reducing premiums and health care costs, improving access, and stabilizing the individual market, which is what the MinnesotaCare Buy-In would do. MinnesotaCare is a proven method for delivering low-cost, high-quality health care and would help us reduce costs and improve access for Minnesotans across the state.

Currently, the program is only available to low-income residents, but if expanded it would provide at least one good, affordable option available for purchase on the individual market, no matter where someone lives. And there would be no ongoing cost to taxpayers. The $12 million start-up cost is a small fraction of the $600 million needed for the Republican insurance company subsidy.

Republicans argue that more people using MinnesotaCare will cause a financial burden for health care providers, but in fact the largest financial threat to providers are people without insurance at all. One rural health care provider explained to me the biggest financial threat to his hospital is a patient who requires ongoing care but doesn’t have insurance. Whether that person needs chemotherapy for cancer treatment, for example, or perhaps experienced a terrible car crash, they will receive treatment. But if they don’t have insurance, the financial burden can be disastrous for a small hospital. Helping more people have insurance builds stable financial footing for our health care providers.

Health insurance plans are deciding now if they will offer plans this fall for 2018. Creating the MinnesotaCare Buy-In is the best proposal right now that provides more access to health care next year.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind – no matter what side of the aisle they stand on – that health care across Minnesota (and our country) must be improved. But to do that, we must remember why we’re working so hard to fix things. Our priority must be to the patient, the child, the parent, the student – the health of each and every Minnesotan. The ultimate goal of health care should, without exception, be to care for the person, not the corporation.

This is a goal we can achieve, and we must.