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Dayton speech calls for health insurance action

(Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)1 / 2
Waving to his grandson in the Minnesota House gallery, Gov. Mark Dayton begins his Monday, Jan. 23, State of the State speech. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)2 / 2

ST. PAUL—Minnesota Mark Dayton has a prescription for a new type of health insurance.

Ironically, he was just getting into the issue during his Monday night, Jan. 23, State of the State speech when he encountered his own health issue. He collapsed 45 minutes into his speech; he walked out, but with assistance, after a few minutes and was reported doing well at home an hour later.

The health-care issue he was about to discuss, according to his prepared speech as released by his office, is soaring health insurance premiums for the 5 percent of Minnesotans who buy individual policies. He planned to call for a new form of insurance.

"One area where the former president, the Congress, and I have fallen short, is to provide all Minnesotans with more affordable health care," Dayton said before collapsing.

While more than 250,000 have gained health insurance coverage in recent years, he said, more is work needed so Minnesotans can afford health care.

"Far too many Minnesotans who don't qualify for federal tax credits have been hit with rapidly rising health insurance costs, from drastic increases in their premiums, to extremely high deductibles," Dayton said. "Too many others have discovered that, contrary to the promise of the (federal) Affordable Care Act, they cannot keep their current doctors under any available new plan."

Dayton said he wants to add an insurance choice to Minnesotans who do not get insurance through their employers or an existing government program.

The speech he planned to give suggested establishing what he called a "public option." That would be based on the state-subsidized MinnesotaCare insurance program for the working poor.

The policy would be sold through MNsure, and lower income people could get federal aid like they do now.

The Dayton speech said the public option would provide better benefits than many policies and give customers more options for doctors and clinics.

The program would need to be enacted by April 1 and require federal approval.

The public option would begin in 2018. But Dayton also wants premium relief for individual policies this year.

"II again ask the Legislature to send me a premium relief bill that I can sign by the end of this week," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that he thinks Republicans will be able to agree on several issues Dayton discussed and planned to discuss Monday night, including health insurance.

"We are going to work on a solution the governor can sign," he said.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he hopes the Legislature can pass insurance relief on Thursday. He said that he expects both Republicans and Dayton to give up some of their wishes in the first round of health insurance legislation.

In the meantime, Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, is asking the Trump administration to extend the Tuesday, Jan. 31, deadline for buying individual policies for 2017. The Obama administration denied a similar request.

The governor, two years from ending his last term as an elected official, also looked back at successes during his speech.

"When I took office in 2011, there were 202,000 Minnesotans unemployed," Dayton said. "Since then, our growing businesses have added 255,400 jobs. Our state's unemployment rate has been at or below 4 percent for the past 30 months. And there are more jobs in Minnesota now than ever before."

He added: "In my first inaugural address, I promised that I would 'clean up the state's financial mess.' I have kept my word. We have turned that first $6 billion projected deficit into $1.4 billion projected surpluses for each of the next two bienniums."

Dayton talked about progress in early childhood education and education in general, putting more money into it every year in office. He said when he announces his budget plan on Tuesday that he will propose increasing per-pupil spending 2 percent, at a $371 million cost for the next two years.

Dayton joined Republicans in calling for more transportation spending. However, he said "it has to be a real solution," an obvious hit at the GOP plan to move some money from other programs to roads and bridges.

The health insurance issue has dominated Minnesota politics for months, including affecting November's election. Dayton and legislative leaders discussed bringing up the issue in a special session, but never decided on how to fix the issue even though they agreed some form of premium relief was needed.

The 5 percent of Minnesotans who buy their policies on the individual market only have until Tuesday to make the purchases.

In the legislative session that began Jan. 3, House and Senate leaders have put a priority on premium relief. But Republicans bills that are to be negotiated beginning Tuesday include the beginning of reforms to make insurance affordable starting in 2018, besides just giving relief this year.

Dayton says the relief should come now, without reforms, but more work is needed in coming weeks, such as his public option plan.

The Dayton administration has been especially critical of a House Republican amendment to a Health insurance bill, passed last week, that would require an insurer to provide a policy covering all health issues, but also would allow policies to be sold at a lower cost that obits some coverage. Dayton aides have said that dropping coverage for diabetes or cancer treatment, for instance, is not acceptable.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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