Premium relief bill nears finish line at MN Capitol

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, left, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, right, talked about the health insurance relief bill during a Thursday news conference at the Capitol. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

The Minnesota Legislature passed a compromise measure Thursday to provide health insurance premium relief, despite strong objections from some Democrats over policy provisions in the bill.

The Senate vote on the conference committee report Thursday was 47-19. The House was scheduled to take up the measure later in the day. passed it 108-19 later in the day and sent it to Gov. Mark Dayton who is expected to sign it. signed it Thursday night.

The $327 million bill gives Minnesotans who buy insurance on the individual market a 25 percent discount if they aren’t eligible for federal subsidies. State officials estimate about 125,000 people facing huge premium increases for 2017 could benefit from the discounts.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, assured those insurance buyers that help is on the way.

“To the people of Minnesota you have been heard, you are not forgotten,” Benson said. “To the farmers and small business owners, to the entrepreneurs on our main streets who are worried, we are listening. We are doing our very best to get you help today.”

The compromise meets DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s requirement to have the insurance companies, rather than the state, issue the discounts.

The bill also includes several Republican-backed reform measures.

One would help people forced to switch health plans continue to see their old doctor for treatment of serious health issues. Another would allow farmers to buy insurance through agricultural cooperatives.

Many Democrats criticized a provision to allow for-profit health insurance companies to do business in Minnesota.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, warned that those companies would put profits ahead of patients. Marty said the profits would likely come from higher premiums and less service.

“With this provision, we have something that next year is going to make the system more expensive, more convoluted and less in the public interest,” Marty said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said the final bill was a product of negotiation with the House and governor, and all sides had to give some. Gazelka also said lawmakers should not worry about for-profit health insurance companies.

“Relax,” Gazelka said. “Forty-nine other states have for-profit HMOs, 49.  That means Minnesota is the only one that doesn’t have for-profit.”