The Minnesota State Legislature convened on January 8 with legislative leaders pledging cooperation and action. When have we heard this before? Minnesota has the distinction of being the only state in the US with a divided legislature, Republican controlled Senate and Democratic controlled House. I expect the legislature to look to the newly elected Democratic governor, Tim Walz, to set the tone and agenda for the session.
The major duty for the legislature this year will be to adopt the state’s budget for the next two years. Democrats and Republicans enter the session with very differing approaches to state spending and revenues within a state budget approaching $50 billion.
The foremost insurance issue this session will be proposals to improve our individual health insurance market. The legislature must decide on two not necessarily compatible proposals.
First, they must decide whether to continue the Minnesota Premium Security program enacted in 2017 and set to expire this year. This state funded reinsurance program directly resulted in individual health insurance premiums being reduced by over 20 percent in 2018 and 2019. The federal government has given Minnesota an ACA waiver to authorize this program and provide federal funding for three more years. The law went into effect without the governor’s signature and is still opposed by many Democrats who view the program as a bailout for private insurers. To continue, it must again be authorized and funded by the state legislature.
Second and likely competing with reinsurance reinstatement will be the Democrat’s proposal for a MinnesotaCare public option or buy-in. The MNCare buy-in was a major plank in Governor’s Walz and Democratic House candidates’ campaigns and has considerable public support. The insurance industry strongly opposes this proposal. Currently MNCare is available for individuals with incomes less than 200%. The program is based upon expansive Medicaid benefits, with minimal deductibles and co-payments.
The concept of providing a more extensive benefits at lower cost would present a huge problem for private insurers and could likely destroy what is left of the private individual insurance marketplace. Health care providers will also oppose such a program where reimbursement rates are less that 50 percent of the reimbursements they receive from commercial insurers. The MNCare buy-in was announced as on the first ten bills that would be introduced in the House and will receive hearings almost immediately.
A return issue that will be on the agenda is penalties for distracted driving. Legislative leaders and most legislators claim that the proposal will be enacted this year. Under the bill, drivers would be prohibited from holding cell phones, testing or viewing video content with a violation of the law considered a felony. Another proposal would increase fines for the state’s existing prohibition on texting while driving. The MIIAB is a member of the broad coalition supporting passage of the hands-free cell phone legislation.
Legislative leaders have announced other priorities for the session. These include funding for transportation improvements and public education, paid family leave, background checks for all gun purchases, reducing drug prices and rural broadband expansion. A very aggressive agenda indeed.
Governor Walz has announced his selections for his cabinet and has chosen Steve Kelley to be his Commissioner of Commerce. Kelley was a state legislator from 1993 to 2007. He is currently a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Kelley ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General in 2006.