Minnesota House and Senate Republicans made health insurance relief and reform their top legislative priority on the first day of bill introductions in the 2017 legislative session.
The Health Care Emergency Aid and Access Act is both Senate and House File 1—the first bills introduced.
“What we learned in the last election is the number one issue Minnesotans care about right now is the health insurance prices that Minnesotans are facing,” said House Speaker Rep. Kurt Daudt.
The bills call for spending $285 million from state reserves—the rainy day fund—to pay down premiums for Minnesotans experiencing skyrocketing prices on the individual market. The rebates would be scaled according to income levels.
The bills also force insurance plans to provide out of network coverage for patients facing acute medical conditions such as pregnancy or cancer. Republicans says this provision of the bill will allow patients to keep their doctors even though their health coverage may force them into a different network.
Finally, the bills would push for reforms. The most controversial of the reforms is allowing for-profit HMOs to compete for coverage in Minnesota.
“The premium relief is the governor’s priority,” said Senate author Michelle Benson. "But I think most reasonable Minnesotans would say if you’re going to spend $300 million you should make some changes in the underlying problem. So that’s what we’re going to work on starting today.”
Governor Dayton says he would prefer to pass the rebate portion of the bill first so Minnesotans can make decisions about which health care plans they can afford before the end of open enrollment on January 31st. Dayton did indicate that he supports their initiative to force health plans to accept the continuation of care of primary doctors that may be out of network.
“I’ve said all along if the Republicans in the House who have been champions of that, if they can get the health plans to go along with that, more power to them,” said Dayton.
House Republicans tried getting Democrats to join them in suspending the rules to vote and pass the bill on the House floor Thursday without having any public hearings on the bill. The argument of leadership was that vetting of the bill would take place in the conference committee with Senate version of the bill. Democrats didn’t buy it.
“Members, this is a risky and reckless bill,” said DFL Rep. Tina Liebling from Rochester.
The failure of the rules suspension on the House floor means the bill will now stop in the Commerce Committee next Tuesday for its first public hearing. Commerce Committe chair and bill author Joe Hoppe of Chaska says his bill will likely have to stop in two more committees before coming back to the House floor for a vote.