ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota's Democratic governor said Wednesday that the Affordable Care Act is "no longer affordable" for many, a stinging critique from a state leader who strongly embraced the law and proudly proclaimed health reform was working in Minnesota just a few years ago.
Gov. Mark Dayton made the comments while addressing questions about Minnesota's fragile health insurance market, where individual plans are facing double-digit increases after all insurers threatened to exit the market entirely in 2017. He's the only Democratic governor to publicly suggest the law isn't working as intended.
Dayton's comments follow former President Bill Clinton's saying last week that the law was "the craziest thing in the world" before he backtracked.
"The reality is the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable for increasing numbers of people," Dayton said, calling on Congress to fix the law to address rising costs and market stability.
The Democratic-driven criticism has emboldened Republicans in Minnesota and nationwide to try to scrap President Barack Obama's 2010 law. Clinton faced backlash for the comments he made during a Michigan rally for his wife last week, and he later clarified his support for the law and called for fixes to address gaps in coverage.
Few states have embraced the health care law more strongly than Minnesota under Dayton. Lawmakers created a state-run online market exchange for people who aren't covered by employers or public programs to buy individual coverage. When those policies first went on sale in 2013, Dayton and state officials touted the lowest health insurance rates in the nation.
But after several years of steadily increasing premiums, top state regulators said this fall that Minnesota's individual market is in "a state of emergency." The state scrambled to stop all seven companies that sell insurance directly to consumers or through the state exchange, MNsure, from fleeing for 2017, but the state's largest insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, is still exiting.
Health care insurance shoppers will see premium increases that range from 50 percent to 67 percent on their plans for next year.
Across the nation, insurers have sought double-digit premium increases while major companies — including Aetna and UnitedHealth — have pulled out of many state-based exchanges for 2017 after forecasting heavy financial losses. The Obama administration portrays the premium increases as a one-year market correction that can be absorbed or offset by larger financial help through tax credits.
Minnesota lawmakers are mulling potential fixes to get costs under control and ensure the individual market can survive. While Dayton said that's worth considering, he said the bulk of the problem lies at the federal level.
"It's got some serious blemishes right now and serious deficiencies," he said.