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Dayton, Lourey, Johnson: It's time to give Minnesotans a more affordable choice for health insurance

2/10/2017 12:26:19 PM

This opinion piece was authored by Governor Mark Dayton, DFL State Sen. Tony Lourey of Kerrick and DFL State Rep. Clark Johnson of North Mankato

Since 1859, the Sexton family has owned and operated the Irish Ridge Dairy Farm in Millville, about 25 miles northeast of Rochester. Sheri and Vince Sexton run the family dairy today. Like generations before them, Sheri and Vince work hard every day to produce high-quality milk and dairy products to provide better lives for themselves and their family.
But rising health insurance costs have thrown them into a financial crisis. Like most farmers, the Sextons have always purchased their own health insurance on the individual market. Last year, they paid $1,580 a month for their health coverage. This year, their premiums went up 40 percent, to $2,200 per month. Altogether, the Sextons are paying $26,400 in premiums this year, for a policy with a $13,000 deductible.
Thanks to the premium relief the Legislature and the governor authorized in late January, Sheri and Vince will save about $6,600 on their annual premiums this year. But even with that relief, they will still pay almost $20,000 for a health policy they can barely afford to use.
The Sextons' story is not unique. Many thousands of hard-working Minnesotans have been saddled with steep health insurance premium increases and huge deductibles — making quality health care unaffordable. Their experiences show how urgent this problem is, and why we must work together to help the Sextons and so many other Minnesotans to afford the quality health care they need, at prices they can afford.
Sheri and Vince told us, "Something has to change." We agree. And we have a solution.
In 1992, Gov. Arne Carlson and legislators from both parties created MinnesotaCare — a state-operated health insurance plan that now provides over 107,000 Minnesotans with affordable health coverage for themselves and their families.
And, with less than 3 percent in annual overhead, MinnesotaCare has proven that it can be run with more efficiency and accountability than many commercial plans now being sold on the individual market. It is a nation-leading, bipartisan solution that has worked in Minnesota for 25 years.
We believe that Minnesotans should have the freedom to buy their health insurance through MinnesotaCare. Their premiums would cover the full cost of their policies, so there would be no ongoing subsidies from the state. The MinnesotaCare "Buy-in Option" would provide a more affordable choice for another 100,000 Minnesotans, who now buy coverage for themselves or their families on the individual market.
Another strong benefit of this proposal, particularly for Minnesotans in rural areas of the state, is the broad networks of physicians and care providers available through MinnesotaCare. Allowing more Minnesotans to buy-in to MinnesotaCare would offer many families a real option to choose their doctor. This is in stark contrast to the single, narrow network of insurance products available in large sections of the state.
Republicans, Democrats, and all Minnesotans agree: we need more affordable health insurance. We also agree that there needs to be more competition to give consumers better choices while purchasing the coverage they need at prices they can afford.
We ought to take our lesson from a program — MinnesotaCare — that has worked successfully for decades, and now give more Minnesotans the choice to purchase this high-quality insurance at lower prices.
It is time for a real solution to rising health insurance costs. That is what Minnesotans expect. That is what they deserve.
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