Republicans, Democrats squabble as priority bills languish

Republicans failed to force a vote Wednesday on an extension of Minnesota’s health care reinsurance program in a move that laid bare the differences between both parties on health care issues.

Under reinsurance, the state pays insurance companies to buy down the cost of insuring the highest-cost Minnesotans. State analysts have estimated it has reduced premiums by an average of 20 percent on the individual market since lawmakers approved it in 2017, but Democrats say it’s unsustainable and have proposed replacing it with a new subsidy for some Minnesotans.

Senate Republicans have voted to extend reinsurance for another three years, but the bill has languished in the DFL-controlled House with the parties split on how to address the issue. Wednesday, Republicans attempted a procedural maneuver to get the bill moving, but Democrats blocked it in favor of their own plan.

“Two months, folks. We’ve been here over two months,” said state Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, referencing the January start of the legislative session. “Just about everyone here had heard on the campaign trail how important insurance is.”

It’s far from the only legislation that’s languishing this year. Gov. Tim Walz’s office launched a website to show the bills the first-year Democratic governor has signed into law; so far, the tracker stands at four bills.

Democrats and Walz have proposed a 20 percent discount in premiums for people who get health insurance through MNSure, the state-run system. They have argued that such a subsidy would eliminate the need to pay a middle man – in other words, the insurance companies under the reinsurance program.

“Lowering health care costs and access to care was certainly very important in my district,” said state Rep. Alice Mann, DFL-Lakeville. “Giving away money with no strings attached to companies that are benefitting off the back of sick people in our communities was not important to them.”

Republicans say that scrapping reinsurance will cause premiums to skyrocket and the Democrats’ proposed subsidy won’t be enough to bring them back down.

“Not everybody on my side of the aisle supported reinsurance or thought that it was going to be a great thing when we passed it. It turned out that it worked – really, really well,” said Republican Minority Leader Kurt Daudt.

The outcome will affect tens of thousands of Minnesotans who rely on reinsurance or MNSure for affordable rates. Voters in 2018 repeatedly said health care was the most important issue facing the state.

In an emotionally charged debate that featured lawmakers accusing each other of questioning members’ motives, Democrats said reinsurance is a stopgap and shouldn’t become permanent.

“Reinsurance is not health care reform. I cannot be more clear about that,” said state Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan. “It is not a plan that is proven and works. Reinsurance was a Band-Aid.”