Phones at the capitol have been ringing off the hook for the past week, and for good reason. Families facing unprecedented health insurance rate increases are scared. They feel these increases are unfair, they want answers — and so do I. Something as critical as access to affordable health care shouldn’t be so burdensome for so many Minnesota families.
Minnesota has a proud history of maintaining one of the most comprehensive, accessible, and innovative health-care networks in the nation. Recent news of dramatic rate increases facing about 5 percent of Minnesotans who purchase insurance in the individual marketplace is unacceptable and deeply concerning — but it is not beyond fixing.
In fact, I’ve spent most of my time during the past two years working on proposing changes to protect Minnesota’s renowned health-delivery system. I am encouraged that more of my colleagues on the other side of the political aisle are finally open to discussing change, but I am disappointed at the timing.
For too many years, MNsure has been used as a political scapegoat. MNsure has always had its challenges, to be sure, but it is merely a delivery system; it’s the technical support that allows Minnesotans to take advantage of what federal law mandates through the Affordable Care Act. To claim these are “MNsure’s rates,” as Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, did in “Republican solutions can solve these woes” (Oct. 5), is misleading to the public and warrants an explanation.
These rates are set up by the Department of Commerce and are applied to products and services both on and off the MNsure exchange. The problems with premium hikes, therefore, lie not with MNsure itself — but with the factors that led us to such high prices.
When health-insurance companies file their rates, most give three major rationales for the increased costs: prescription-drug prices, an aging population, and over-use of high-cost services like visits to the emergency room. These are the real reasons health care is becoming more expensive.
In 2016, the Senate proposed numerous reforms to try and tackle the instability of the individual market — some of which were suggested by the Star Tribune this week (“Health hikes demand special-session action,” Oct. 5). Among these proposals were plans to provide an alternative open-enrollment period; allowing all Minnesotans to buy MinnesotaCare coverage; studying how to stabilize rates; analyzing the potential merger of the small group and individual markets, and providing more transparency in the rate-review process.
Senate Democrats also spent months drafting legislation to offer Minnesota tax credits against insurance premiums for those denied federal tax credits. Our caucus was the only one to offer a proactive, money-saving plan to deal with rising premiums. But unfortunately, these reforms met the political realities of an election year, where it is easier to blame one side for a problem instead of working together to solve it.
Rising costs of health care and health insurance present difficult times for Minnesotans and their families. Money is tight, and many are being forced into impossible decisions. They deserve the Legislature’s and the insurance industry’s serious consideration of what will actually turn the situation around. It’s easy to point fingers; it’s much more difficult to work together on complicated issues to find lasting solutions.
But I think Democrats and Republicans agree on more than it appears. We both want to see this problem fixed and we want to make sure Minnesota’s legacy of comprehensive, accessible and innovative health-care networks can live long into the future. Urgency on this matter is critical, and I look forward to working with the governor and my colleagues on the Health Care Finance Task Force to make improvements to our health-care system and ease the financial burden on Minnesota families.
Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, is deputy majority leader of the Minnesota Senate.