Now that MNsure’s rates have been released, Minnesotans are finally able to assess the damage higher insurance premiums will have on their household budgets in 2017. Approximately 250,000 Minnesotans will be faced with increases averaging from 50 percent to 67 percent over this year’s costs, and at least 100,000 will lose their current coverage and trusted doctor.

This is not a new trend. Double-digit cost increases and dwindling choices have been the norm for the past few years. For many, higher health care costs are wiping out hard-earned wage increases and crushing dreams of early retirement, long-awaited vacations or college savings.

It’s a truly heartbreaking situation. But can it be fixed? It’s time to come clean with ordinary folks just trying to make the right choices in a complex and frustrating health care market.

A lot of people say real change can only happen at the federal level. It’s true that only the feds can completely reverse what they’ve put in place: restrictive new rules, a massive bureaucracy and a web of hidden costs driving prices through the roof. But there are plenty of changes we can make at the state level to bend the cost curve and provide at least short-term relief to struggling families.

First, we can ease the financial burden by creating tax deductions on health insurance premiums for people who don’t qualify for group coverage. Typically, these families pay the highest insurance premiums, because they either work for themselves or their employer is too small to offer coverage. A tax deduction can mean hundreds of dollars back in the bank, helping to offset higher costs.

Second, we can increase choices by allowing more Minnesotans to qualify for group coverage. Farmers who are members of agriculture co-ops, for example, can band together and negotiate for better plans than they’d be able to get on their own. We can also remove unnecessary restrictions that prevent small employers from offering coverage, giving their employees more options to choose from. Republicans are focused on more consumer choice so families can have the coverage they need at a price they can afford.

Third, we can open the private market to people who qualify for public programs. Public program recipients can spend their health care dollars on a plan that matches their needs, instead of forcing them into a one-size-fits-all plan dictated by the state. As a bonus, it will also create an incentive for insurance companies to provide lower-cost options geared toward these needy families.

By giving consumers more choices, stripping away unnecessary regulations and providing tax relief on premiums, we can begin to bend the cost curve down and put Minnesotans back in charge of their own health care again.

 

Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, is a member of the Minnesota Senate and the ranking minority member of the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee.