Budget chief warns about delayed insurance relief

MMB Commissioner Myron Frans warns about delays and added costs under the Republican legislation for health insurance relief. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration is raising concerns about House and Senate Republicans’ approach to health insurance premium relief.

Dayton’s top budget adviser said Monday that the $300 million GOP plan (HF1 and SF1) for the state to issue rebates to people facing big health insurance premium spikes with no eligibility for federal aid would be overly complicated, expensive and slow in delivering its intended benefits.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said Dayton’s $313 million proposal to let the insurance companies handle the discounts would make sure people see relief this year. Frans said the companies would use their existing billing systems.

“There’s no added cost here. All they need to do is factor in a 25 percent premium rebate, that we’re going to reimburse them for,” Frans said. “This is the most simple, direct plan I’ve ever seen government come up with.”

The Republican plan has income limits, while the governor’s does not.

Frans said it would cost the state at least $20 million to hire an outside firm to handle the eligibility verification and processing work proposed under the Republican legislation. He said it would take about six months to get that system up and running.

Frans said the governor’s proposal would help Minnesotans who will sign up for individual market coverage by the end of the month.

“We believe there are people waiting to find out whether there will be a 25 percent reduction in premiums to determine whether they can afford to buy insurance,” he said.

Republicans are also trying to move quickly to help the thousands of Minnesotans who are facing huge premiums increases. Several House and Senate committees are scheduled to take up the Republican-backed bills this week.

In addition to the rebates, the GOP plan includes reform measures. It would help people facing serious medical issues to keep their current doctor and allow for-profit providers to enter the Minnesota market.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said she’s willing to be flexible on the bill’s technical details.

“We can continue to have a conversation about how we get money to people and how we do it quickly,” Benson said. “But I think if we’re going to spend $300 million, the people of Minnesota should see some reforms as well.”