Skyrocketing health insurance premiums are putting many hardworking Americans in a tough position. To help ensure coverage for the residents of his state, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton — who recently remarked that the “Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable” — is trying to rush a controversial plan through an emergency session of the legislature.
Last Thursday, Dayton, a Democrat, outlined a 25-percent health insurance premium rebate for the 123,000 Minnesotans expected to purchase health insurance on the individual market in 2017, but aren’t eligible for a federal tax credit.
“Dayton’s solution should begin by proposing significant tax relief and the immediate shutdown of MNsure,” said one nurse and patient advocate.
The plan will cost an estimated $313 million and would be funded by Minnesota taxpayers — it would come out of a “rainy day fund” that was created from a budget surplus last year. The money will help the 2 percent of Minnesotans who are getting hit with premium spikes of 50 percent to 67 percent.
“The plan would instantly and efficiently provide rebates to Minnesotans, reducing rate increases from 55 percent to 16 percent on average, while reducing monthly premium bills by 25 percent,” Dayton said in a statement.
The program, he added, “can cost no more than the amount of the additional surplus, currently estimated to be $313 million, which under current law would be added to the existing $1.9 billion Budgeted Reserve Fund, when the next Budget Forecast is released on Dec. 2.”
The “rainy day fund,” or Budget Reserve Account, has a defined statutory purpose, said Twila Brase, R.N., co-founder of Citizen’s Council for Health Freedom, a national patient-centered health freedom organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“As the Pew Charitable Trusts reported in December 2015, the Minnesota reserve account has one of the best and most explicit formulas for determining the amount to be saved in the fund. But the whole purpose of the fund is to protect the financial stability of the state of Minnesota,” she told LifeZette.
Aside from whether this is the appropriate use of funds, there are at least two other concerns, Brase said. First, sometimes the “temporary” becomes permanent, which in this case would serve as an ongoing bailout to the health plans that may threaten again to leave MNsure unless their premium dollar demands are met.
Second, she said, where is the relief for taxpayers?
“Minnesotans are paying the price of Gov. Dayton’s embrace of the federal takeover of health care,” she said. “To take himself off the political hot seat, Dayton wants to use taxpayer dollars that his $2.1 billion tax increase took from working Minnesotans. As the governor who signed the MNsure bill with enthusiasm — using many pens that he later handed out as gifts — Gov. Dayton is responsible for the current disaster unfolding in Minnesota.”
The plan, she added, may cross troubling legal lines.
“The rainy day fund is statutorily limited for supporting the state during economic downturns — not for bailing out individuals hurt by harmful legislation,” said Brase. “MNsure has been a financial loss from the get-go, with at least $400 million poured into it thus far. Dayton’s solution should begin by proposing significant tax relief and the immediate shutdown of MNsure.”