Minnesota lawmakers took a welcome step this year with a “reinsurance” program to help consumers struggling to afford individual health insurance policies. The Legislature’s work, however, is far from done.
If the state is to remain a nationally respected health care pioneer, it’s imperative that lawmakers keep moving forward during their time away from the Capitol. Even with the session-end legal wrangling, collaboration on other improvements is critical to ensure that consumers here have affordable coverage and access to desirable medical providers.
Minnesota is already at risk of being a laggard. Other states, such as Nevada and New York, have weighed or are making bold moves to provide consumers more insurance choices. The reason is that the signals coming from Washington, D.C., are clear. The era of federal health care leadership that resulted in President Barack Obama’s health reforms is over.
One Republican bill, the American Health Care Act or AHCA, has already cleared the U.S. House. The Senate version of it is shrouded in detestable secrecy, but it is said to be similar to the AHCA. If enacted, the AHCA would substantially reduce consumers’ tax credit assistance and cut $834 billion from funding for Medicaid, which covers the poor. It’s up to states to fill that vacuum — a daunting task that includes filling the inevitable large funding gaps.
Minnesota has an admirable tradition of “interim study commissions.” For decades, these bipartisan groups of bright legislators put their down time to good use by vetting solutions. Minnesota needs such a commission. Fortunately, state Senate Republicans are putting in motion a “select committee” that could act as one. That Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, is expected to play a pivotal role also inspires confidence. Jensen is a physician who merits praise for his enthusiasm and desire to have another Senate doctor — Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights — join the committee.
Having two doctors at the helm should help the group prioritize patient needs over politics. They’ll also bring the expertise needed to evaluate health care delivery reforms necessary to provide affordable, quality care. Hopefully, they also know that accomplishing this will take resources, which is why continuing the state provider tax, which funds the state’s health care access fund, beyond its 2019 sunset should be under consideration.
It’s worth noting that Nevada garnered national attention for a proposal similar to one championed this year by Gov. Mark Dayton — allowing the public to buy into that state’s Medicaid program. Nevada’s governor vetoed the proposal on Friday, but the select committee here should give Dayton’s MinnesotaCare buy-in plan, which did not clear the Legislature, another look, especially if rates for 2018 rise unacceptably.
The buy-in could offer an affordable insurance option to Minnesotans in areas private insurers do not wish to serve and broaden provider access. Jensen admirably crossed party lines earlier this year to support the buy-in when the Senate considered it.
The committee has a daunting assignment before it. The sooner it gets to work, the better.