Amid health care battle, Johnson plans to offer MNCare expansion bill

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Rep. Clark Johnson hopes the third time's the charm when it comes to a proposal to expand the state's public health plan.

The North Mankato Democrat will once more bring a proposal to lawmakers next year asking them to explore selling MinnesotaCare plans on the individual insurance market.

"Doggone it, that has a chance to really solidify the individual market," Johnson said 

Johnson's pledge to introduce the bill for the third year in a row comes as legislators debate how to curb health care costs for Minnesotans. The GOP-controlled Minnesota Legislature took several actions last to ease potentially catastrophic insurance premium increases for people who buy insurance on their own, as well as offer insurance companies some assurance of profitability by creating a reinsurance pool. 

Yet Republicans didn't bite on Johnson's MinnesotaCare proposal, even after Gov. Mark Dayton and other Democrats publicly supported it.

Dayton approved $310 million in rebates to offset insurance premium increases by 25 percent in the individual market in January. In April, he let a plan to create a $542 million reinsurance program to bolster the insurance industry within Minnesota become law.

Preliminary insurance rates posted earlier this summer showed little to no increases in individual insurance plans thanks to those actions. Republican lawmakers lauded the news as a positive step, while DFLers say the state spent too much to shore up the insurance industry and question how the state will help people deal with similarly large insurance bills next year.

Johnson's plan, originally spearheaded by former state Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, calls for Minnesota to ask for a federal waiver to sell MinnesotaCare on the market. DFLers say offering a public option would help stabilize the state's insurance market, while some Republicans question how effective a MinnesotaCare expansion would be in addressing health insurance increases.

Under Johnson's proposal, low-income residents who are eligible for MinnesotaCare would still receive subsidized care. Residents who bought a MinnesotaCare plan on the market would pay their own way. Johnson's previous bills directed state officials to create the plan to offer comparable coverage at a slightly less-than-average premium.

Johnson's bill didn't get a hearing during this year's legislative session, but he hopes his Republican colleagues will consider it as part of a package of reforms in 2018.

Several area lawmakers from both parties have said they'd be interested to hear more ideas for health care reform next year. Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake and Senate Finance Committee Chair Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, were named to a work group exploring health care access and affordability earlier this summer. The group will work through the end of the year to create a list of recommendations for the Legislature and federal officials.

"There are a lot of variables that we're addressing, but this does need to be under a microscope and we need to give it more attention than what is allowed during session," Rosen said in July.

This article originally appeared in the Mankato Free Press. To view the original article please click here

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