Governor Dayton signs health insurance premium relief and reform bill

Governor Dayton signed the health insurance premium relief and reform bill Thursday evening, just hours after the Minnesota House and Senate have overwhelmingly passed it to his desk.

“In order to provide urgently-needed health insurance premium relief to 125,000 Minnesotans, I am signing this essential legislation today. I do not agree with everything included in it," said Dayton in a statement.

The heart of the bill spends $300 million from the state’s reserve fund to provide a 25 percent rebate to people who can’t qualify for federal credits on individual policies sold on the MNsure exchange. The bill compromised by lawmakers and the governor’s office would allow insurance companies to directly issue the rebates on an individual’s monthly premium statement. The insurance companies would be reimbursed by the State of Minnesota. Myron Frans, Department of Management and Budget Commissioner, says policy holders should be able to start applying for their rebates in April for coverage starting in May. 

“This was tough negotiations. But I will tell you none of us gave up,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, the Senate’s Majority leader. “In the end, none of us got what we wanted, but that’s what compromise is all about.”

During the conference committee negotiations, the Senate had to drop its proposal on a reinsurance program for insurance providers. The House had to give up a controversial provision stripping the coverage of many popular and federally required preventative care procedures. As for Governor Dayton, he was forced to accept GOP demands to allow for-profit insurers to enter the state.

The entrance of for-profit underwriters is hard for many DFL lawmakers to swallow.

“This is a huge change,” said DFL Senator Ron Latz.

Sen. John Marty argued on the Senate floor that for-profit insurance companies may not offer more competition and may actually enter the market with higher premiums.

“Their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to make higher profits comes two ways, either charging higher premiums or reducing claims and services covered,” Marty said.

For the first time, the bill also permits agricultural cooperatives to form pool insurance coverage for their members. Lawmakers believe it will help provide more choices for farmers in outstate Minnesota where in many areas there is only one provider for 2017.

“We’ve got to have these kind of reforms and market reforms, and increased access, so we aren’t here again next year,” said Republican Senator Mary Kiffmeyer.

Legislative leaders admit none of the reforms are perfect and vow to explore more ways to stabilize the market before the end of the legislative session.

“It’s not going to solve every problem,” said House Speaker Kurt Daudt. “But it’s a great first step and I’m proud that we were able to come to some compromises with the administration not to just have premium relief, but to have the beginning of the reforms necessary to solve those problems."

Governor Dayton full statement:

“In order to provide urgently-needed health insurance premium relief to 125,000 Minnesotans, I am signing this essential legislation today. I do not agree with everything included in it. I have said repeatedly that I think it is unnecessary and unwise to rush the ‘reforms’ added to this bill, without proper public review or full consideration of their consequences. I am especially concerned that the change to allow foreign and for-profit insurers into the Minnesota market has not been adequately reviewed, and I ask the legislature to seriously re-evaluate this provision, when future health care legislation is considered.

“However, I appreciate that the bill's Conferees agreed to my proposed mechanism to provide this premium relief as quickly as possible. And I commend the House leadership for championing the important 'Continuity of Care' addition to the bill.

“I also appreciate the Senate leadership's willingness to set aside, for now, the reinsurance provision, which I have urged be given more careful consideration through the appropriate legislative committees. And I am relieved that the Conferees wisely rejected the House amendment, which would have removed important health care protections for Minnesotans.

“The Legislature and I must now turn our attention to making good health care coverage available and affordable for all Minnesotans. As I said the other night, ‘If we all give a little, Minnesotans will gain a lot.’ That spirit prevailed in negotiating this legislation. May it continue.”