Dayton is on hunt for leeway from feds

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is waiver hunting this week out east.

The DFL governor wrapped up a few days in Washington on Wednesday and heads next to Rhode Island, where the National Governors Association holds its summer meeting this weekend. In both settings, Dayton is pressing top federal officials for leeway — on health care and driver’s licenses.

He met Tuesday with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about granting permission for Minnesota’s new reinsurance initiative. The reinsurance pool would use government money to offset particularly expensive medical claims for people who buy coverage on the individual market. The goal is to blunt some of the costs blamed for driving up premiums for all subscribers in hopes of keeping rate increases for 2018 plans down.

“The sooner we can have certainty for the health plans about what the parameters are for next year, the sooner that they’ll be comfortable proceeding. But that’s the reality of the situation. And under the circumstances, it’s moving as quickly as we can reasonably expect,” Dayton said by phone in an interview. “I think the signs are very favorable. We don’t have any indication this waiver will not be approved.”

The state’s application for flexibility was judged to be complete in late June and a required public comment period will push the matter into August. Dayton says he hopes a waiver decision will come through by the end of August. The decision could also determine if Minnesota will get some federal money to offset some of the $542 million projected cost of the pool.

Dayton’s other waiver quest is to get assurances for Minnesota travelers that they won’t be hung up at airport checkpoints in January, when the federal government plans to start enforcing the Real ID standard. Minnesota has been slow to adapt its driver’s license procedures to the elevated security standard demanded under a 2005 federal law.

In fact, Minnesota was one of the final states to conform to the law when the Legislature passed a bill this spring. It will take time for the Department of Public Safety to implement the change so residents probably won’t be able to get a Real ID for several more months.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security granted a short extension, saying the existing licenses will be acceptable for entry into secured federal buildings and nuclear power plants through Oct. 10. Unless states get more time, the enhanced licenses will be required to clear airport security in mid January for people who don’t want to carry a passport instead to travel domestically.

Dayton said he’ll press for a longer extension when he meets with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly later this week. The governor said he has every expectation the additional waiver will be granted.

“Right now, I can say that’s a 99 percent guarantee, but that leaves the 1 percent we want to eliminate, even that threat of a possibility,” Dayton said.