DFL Senate calls for special session to address health care policies

- After feeling the heat from constituents across the state on the skyrocketing premiums for individual health care policies next year, Senate Democrats are now calling for an immediate special session.

“The DFL Senate would like a special session,” Majority Leader Tom Bakk said. “And if it can be convened before the election, we would like to do it before the election.”

Bakk says he conducted a conference call on Tuesday with his entire caucus where senators told him their constituents wanted action. Bakk says his caucus unanimously agreed that a special session was needed on providing relief for rising health insurance rates.

Senate Democrats are offering up a bill heard in the Senate Tax Committee last April, but not included in the final tax package. The bill, introduced by Senator Matt Schmit of Red Wing would provide tax credits for people purchasing individual policies so that their premiums would not exceed 9.6% of their total income.

“This is sort of a one-time solution for 2017,” said Senator Tony Lourey of Kerrick. “But we will be feeling the pressure to find longer term solutions.  What we are proposing here is a one year fix.”

The Senate’s Republican Minority Leader David Hann says it’s not a fix at all. “We’re not interested in a special session to apply and band aid to help the Democrats with a political problem that they created.”

Hann said his caucus wants to focus on more permanent solutions to the crisis.

“Nineteen days before and election we’re talking about things that have had no research attached to them, they don’t even know what they cost, they don’t even know where the money is coming from,” said an exasperated Hann. “They want to do this right now.  Do you think this is politically motivated?  Yes we do.”

The crisis comes after the Minnesota Department of Commerce announced the premiums for individual health care plans for 2017 would rise by more than 50 percent. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota pulled out of the individual market for 2017 and the remaining insurers followed their lead creating a total collapse of the individual market.

Only after the Department of Commerce agreed to enrollment caps and increased premiums did several of the insurers reenter the market for 2017. 

The massive premium increases only apply to people buying individual policies. That represents about 5 percent of Minnesotans. Those with qualifying incomes can buy their policies on the MNsure exchange and receive federal credits to lower the costs. But, those buying outside of MNsure will have to absorb the rising costs.  That’s why lawmakers are trying to find a temporary solution.

Gov. Mark Dayton as recently as Wednesday said he was in favor of trying to find that solution, but is against a special session before the elections.

“Well, the enrollments start Nov. 1 and if it requires legislative action I’m not going to call a special session before the election, that would be mayhem,” said Dayton.

But, Dayton also says the ultimate solution belongs at the federal level. 

“The real fix is for Washington to improve the Affordable Care Act and increase the subsidies both the amount and eligibility limits and also to pass a federal law on reinsurance so that claims above a certain amount are paid for through a common federal fund, which means that every insurance company could lower their rates for everybody,” Dayton said.

As for convincing the governor of a special session, Senate Leader Bakk says he thinks he has a plan.

“I would bet you if the Speaker and I went over to see the governor and said we want to do a tax credit to help these people who have these increasing premiums, my bet is on the governor saying yes,” Bakk said.

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