Minnesota Senate passes health insurance relief bill

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Minnesota State Capitol

The Senate has spoken. For the Strib, Erin Golden says, “The Minnesota Senate voted Thursday to send $300 million in state relief to people struggling with surging health insurance bills, but the party-line vote has the Legislature’s Republican majority headed for conflict with Gov. Mark Dayton and DFLers. As many as 123,000 Minnesotans who buy insurance on the state’s individual market but whose income makes them ineligible for subsidies are facing premium increases of 50 percent or more this year. Republicans who took charge of the Legislature last week put a relief package on the fast track, with a rapid series of packed hearings culminating in a lengthy floor debate.”

For MPR, Brian Bakst writes, “Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, a doctor, touted the GOP plan as going beyond a simple fix to start rescuing an ailing insurance system. ‘I don’t think the urgency is to specifically get checks into people’s hands, whether it’s three months, six months or nine months,’ he said. ‘If we don’t elevate the problem to the level of our interest and all we do is throw money at it, that’s just a Band Aid. And that’s not what I’m hearing from my patients.’” Hmm. So repeal and replace?

The AP story says, “Republicans who control the Legislature have advocated for income-based subsidies to offset the 50 percent to 67 percent hikes on the individual market this year. They’re also pushing for broader reforms like allowing for-profit insurers to sell plans in Minnesota.”

The Strib editorial page says, “Republicans also want to make the aid contingent upon income after three months. They also want to link the aid’s passage to other controversial reforms, such as easing access to the Minnesota market for for-profit insurers. This page has made clear that rate relief for consumers should not be held up for other reforms, which should be considered later in the session. But even setting the reforms aside, it’s clear that the political gulf remains regrettably wide over how best to deliver the aid.”

More “youthful indiscretions,” apparently. Josh Verges in the PiPress says, “Jim Carter, the former Green Bay Packer and a finalist for a seat on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, says his ‘bad behavior’ with a team employee in 1976 should not disqualify him for the role. A receptionist sued Carter and the Packers, alleging the linebacker exposed himself to her in her work area, then ‘blocked her exit with athletic shorts at his ankles,’ according to news reports from 1976. She further claimed that the team fired her after she complained about it. At the time, Carter described the incident to reporters as ‘harmless.’ Forty years later, he sees it in a different light.” Do the Russians have any video of this?

I bet you never worried about this before. Dan Kraker at MPR says, “First came the itching — hives so maddening they made Suzanne Keithley-Myers want to claw her flesh. Then came waves of stomach pain so dizzying and disorienting they made her ‘kind of afraid for my life.’ The 45-year-old nurse couldn’t explain her body’s breakdown. She suspected it was tied to ticks that had bitten her during a June mushroom hunting trip in the woods near Aurora, Minn., but this didn’t seem like a typical tick reaction. On a hunch, she Googled ‘meat allergy’ and found something that seemed like a perfect fit — a rare, potentially severe allergy to ‘alpha-gal,’ a sugar found in red meat, triggered by a bite from the lone star tick.”

About those two who were making such a scene that the pilot turned an LA-bound flight around back to Minneapolis? Says Paul Walsh of the Strib, “Blake Fleisig, 35, of Los Angeles, and Anna C. Koosmann, 36, were arrested Dec. 28 by police at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport while still on the Delta airliner. Fleisig was arrested and cited by police for disorderly conduct. Koosmann also was arrested, then cited for disorderly conduct as well as obstructing the legal process. Defense attorney Alex Spiro said Fleisig ‘will not be prosecuted for any offense whatsoever’. … Misdemeanor charges remain against Koosmann.” Really? You’re acting up so badly they turn the plane around and you walk? But four ounces of a liquid in your carry on and there’s a problem.

Here’s a trifecta. Richard Chin of the PiPress reports, “A traffic stop just after midnight in Anoka County revealed a bizarre situation: a woman who said she was in labor, in a stolen van smelling of marijuana and containing a handgun and five young children with packing tape over their mouths, according to police and prosecutors.” Actually it’s more like a SepFecta.

Who doesn’t want a little Xanax in their sunfish?  Says MPR’s Dan Gunderson, “Trace levels of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals may be harming fish in Minnesota rivers and lakes, according to a study released Thursday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Several studies in recent years found a variety of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals in Minnesota waters, ranging from antidepressants to insect repellant.”

Of course, front and center is a sauna. Says Stribber Jenna Ross, “A sauna has popped up outside Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Its steam will signal the start of a yearlong celebration of the 100-year anniversary of Finland’s independence. Like its mascot, a sauna on wheels, ‘Finland 100’ events will travel across the country, with two large festivals in Washington, D.C. But the U.S. celebration starts and ends in Minnesota, land of the Finns. The state boasts the biggest percentage of people with Finnish ancestry in the country.”

It’s earnings reports time from the big banks. Brena Swanson at HousingWire.com writes, “Wells Fargo is viewed as a great read on the pulse of the American economy since 97% of its revenue comes from the U.S, meaning investors will be paying close attention to the bank’s mortgage business, a briefing.com report explains. Wells Fargo is projected to post revenue of $22.304 billion. There are still a lot of factors on the line for Wells Fargo, as FBR Capital Markets & Co. points out. FBR predicts that the stock ‘will remain range-bound until they are able to get more clarity into ongoing regulatory investigations, the recently announced independent audit, and the steps still needed to be taken in order to put the sales practice issue in the rear-view mirror.’”

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/13/2017 - 07:31 am.

    I’m FASCINATED By the Creative Way the Republicans

    Have found to deny premium relief to those suffering most in Minnesota,…

    something they CLEARLY never wanted to do,…

    because of their knee-jerk philosophy that those who are in need,…

    no matter how legitimate,…

    no matter if through no fault of their own,…

    absolutely do not deserve help.

    The very fact that these folks ARE in need,…

    disqualifies them from receiving any.

    So our Republican “friends” have now devised a deviously creative way to NEVER actually give them help,…

    even though the money is freely available,…

    and TRY to place the blame on Gov. Dayton.

    My dear Republicans,…

    we’re NOT buying this garbage.

    We’ve got your number.

    You NEVER intended to give this help,…

    you can’t bring yourselves to spend this kind of money,…

    on anything but tax cuts to our state’s wealthiest citizens,…

    who ABSOLUTELY do NOT need the help

    and, sorry to say, those who elected you should have known that you would NEVER help them,…

    because you never HAVE,…

    and you never WILL.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/13/2017 - 08:35 am.

    Hmmm…

    One can’t help but wonder if legislative Republicans would be so gung-ho to make this sort of aid from the state available to citizens who are not much concerned about health insurance premium increases of 50 and 60 percent if those citizens couldn’t afford health insurance at all. That is, after all, the point of the ACA and MNSure, is it not? The former is about to be done away with by GOP ideologues in Congress, and with it, I’d guess, MNSure as well, unless Republican legislators in St. Paul are equally concerned about the effects a lack of any sort of health coverage at all might have on the state’s least-affluent citizens, in which case they’ll speedily devise a replacement program.

    Won’t they?

  3. Submitted by Peggy Reinhardt on 01/13/2017 - 09:02 am.

    Profit-making health insurance

    Is that really what we want? Health insurance business squeezing patients more for shareholder gains? To me, we’ve been blessed in MN to allow only non-profit health insurance – even as United HealthCare is in our backyard. I don’t see non-profit Blue Cross/Blue Shield hurting financially.
    It’s important to differentiate health insurance from actual health care.

    Somethings not right when profit-making health insurance lobbyists salivate at the prospect of people being sick so their company makes more profit.

    People are willing to pay for health care, but not for the health insurance gamble about whether they’ll need health care or not. Single payer ala Medicare.

    • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 01/13/2017 - 01:06 pm.

      Agreed

      For-profit insurance health insurance companies add no value to the health care system. They’re only function appears to be adding needless cost and inefficiency.

      An example is the pay of Stephen Hemsley, CEO at United Health:

      -$66 million in 2014
      -$102 million in 2010

      http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/4/9/1376712/-UnitedHealthcare-myUHC-CEO-Stephen-Hemsley-took-home-66-million-in-2014-102-million-in-2010

      This is pure waste in the system, and I would go so far as to describe it as a kind of legalized theft. In essence, consumers who use United Health are effectively assessed a tax on their income, the only reason for which is that Stephen Hemsley wants it. He certainly didn’t earn it. For-profit insurance CEOs like him, the executives in these companies, and corporate shareholders, really serve no other function in the health care system than to ride us all for personal enrichment.

  4. Submitted by Rod Loper on 01/13/2017 - 10:16 am.

    It’s all politics.

    They could have settled this all last October but they wanted to run statewide against “Obamacare”
    and the increases to premiums in the individual market fueled the cause.

  5. Submitted by Tim Kaiser on 01/13/2017 - 11:33 am.

    Time is running out

    Better hurry up and make that appointment with the Death Panel before they scrap that, too.

  6. Submitted by Bryce Elson on 01/13/2017 - 12:41 pm.

    Transfer payments

    I think legislators and even journalists should call what is being debated by its true name, it is a transfer payment to the insurance companies. In other words it is a subsidy to the insurance companies since they receive the funds ultimately. (How is it really different than the subsidy to insurance companies that the Congress in DC axed last year as part of the ACA?)

    It’s fine to call it relief for the middle class… but that and the entire Rube Goldbergian system
    of health insurance and care in this country is a joke. The party now in power will only make things even more complex… and less valuable but more costly to the insured.

    The only sensible way to do this to achieve something less than the world beating 16% of GDP Americans pay for healthcare (We’re No. 1!) is to get a clue and understand that what Taiwan, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Holland, Canada, Australia, etc. etc. have is not going to cause the end of capitalism or medicine as we know it. Until then our inefficient system will only get worse.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/14/2017 - 05:03 pm.

      (A point or so low, but) 100% Correct

      Here’s some related detail (sometimes referred to as “facts”) as to how we stack up with the rest of the civilized world when it comes to the cost of our health care system.

      Italy: $3,207 (per person, per year)

      United Kingdom: $3,971

      Japan $3,713

      Australia: $4,177

      France: $4,367

      Canada: $4,506

      Sweden: $5,003

      Germany: $5,119

      Switzerland: $6,787

      United States: $9,024

      http://www.pgpf.org/chart-archive/0006_health-care-oecd

      In other words, as designed, constructed, managed and perpetuated to the greatest degree possible by “special interests” and “law makers,” the U.S. health care system is providing every American (you, me, everyone here we and they know or see) with an Average Yearly Overcharge (AYO) of $5,000.

      And what are all of us getting for our extra $5,000 per year (of “Premium Service”)?

      “The U.S. spends more on health care than other high-income countries but has worse outcomes, including shorter life expectancy and greater prevalence of chronic conditions.”

      http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/oct/us-health-care-from-a-global-perspective

      In terms of Gross Domestic Product spending comparison, here are those numbers as tracked by the Commonwealth Fund from 1980 (30 years before the ACA became law) to 2013:

      United States: 17.1%

      France: 11.6%

      Sweden: 11.5%

      Germany: 11.2%

      Netherlands: 11.1%

      Switzerland: 11.1%

      Denmark: 11.1%

      New Zealand: 11.0%

      Canada: 10.7%

      Japan: 10.2%

      Norway: 9.4%

      Australia: 9.4%

      United Kingdom: 8.8%

      http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2015/oct/us-health-care-from-a-global-perspective

      “In 2015, Minnesota current-dollar GDP was $328.3 billion”

      http://www.bea.gov/regional/bearfacts/pdf.cfm?fips=27000&areatype=STATE&geotype=3

      Apply the U.S. health care spending rate of 17.1% of GDP to our state’s GDP and it says we’re spending $55 BILLION per year on health care.

      That’s $12+ billion more than our entire state budget ($42.5 billion). It says we, as a state, are spending more on financing our health care system than we are on education, our infrastructure, environment, public safety, you name it, COMBINED.

      Apply the percentage of GDP being spent in the UK (8.8%) to our MN GDP and the result is –

      $28.5 billion, or just under $27 billion less.

      We hear a lot of politicians talking (endlessly) about the (perpetual) need for “tax relief.”

      Take the past couple of years for example. We’ve had budget “surpluses” (not really when inflation’s taken into consideration) and it has been the position of Republicans that every penny of that surplus should be given back to the tax payers (in order to give them that “relief” — so they can spend it on health care insurance — and “stimulate economic growth”).

      So okay . . . Let’s say everyone agreed with that and it was decided that whatever “extra” money there is laying around would be refunded to us, the tax payers.

      I don’t know what the projected “surplus” is as of now, but never mind that. Let’s go all the way and take the biggest number of the past two or three years and say the tax cuts would amount to a whopping $1.2 billion.

      “Hallelujah!” or something close to it would be the first word of every Republican campaign speech or ad from then on, closely followed by the phrase, “Biggest Tax Relief Package in Minnesota History!” so on so forth. The main point would be that “the hard-working families of Minnesota” would be saving over a billion dollars (the year of the tax cut)!

      Sounds great and would probably generate some votes.

      But compare that idea, those headlines and bumper stickers to something like,

      “Minnesota Families to be Saving More Than $26 Billion Per Year From Now On”

      Which would you vote for?

      Something that would save you and your family’s share of $1 billion for one year or . . .

      Something that saved you and your family’s share of $26+ billion (just under that $5,000 per year) EVERY year for the rest of your and your family’s life?

      “Hmmmmmm . . . Wait a minute . . . Let me think.”

      Crazy talk? Pie in the sky? Radical lefty lies?

      Hardly. It’s happening everywhere else in the civilized world. It is and has been standard operating procedure for years for all those countries America trades and competes with. There’s nothing new about it. There are no big, “closely-guarded secrets” as to how they do it.

      All we, as a country or, as a state, would need to do is pick up the phone and call the “Ministry of Health” in any of the countries on the list above or on this web page . . .

      http://www.therichest.com/expensive-lifestyle/lifestyle/top-10-best-health-care-systems-in-the-world/

      . . . and ask them if they’d mind if we sent over a team (from someplace like the U of MN or whoever people would think best-suited and most qualified) to take a look at their system’s blueprints and maybe get a little (compensated, if need be) guidance and “consulting expertise.”

      All we’d need to do is get over this idiotic notion of “American Exceptionalism” where our health care system is concerned and, above all, stop listening to or believing ANYone who says it would be a “complete disaster!” to convert our system to something modeled on the best of the best (and proven) health care systems in the world.

      If we did that instead of what we’ve been doing (for decades), what we’re doing now and what it appears we’re ABOUT to do, in five or ten years we would ALL be enjoying the (all-around) benefits of implementing the best, most affordable health care system the world has to offer.

      • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 01/20/2017 - 09:30 am.

        We could still be the most expensive and save a ton

        If they could drop the 17% of GDP down to 12% we would still have the most expensive health care in the world but we would save $16B per year (or nearly $3000 per person). That wouldn’t even require the most drastic reforms (changes in wage scales for doctors and nurses).

        You are correct that all this takes is political will but the people who make those unnecessary billions of dollars are powerful lobbyists. Voters were so disgusted with the status quo that they decided they would rather have a pig in a poke.

  7. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/13/2017 - 01:12 pm.

    Why is it the DFL and GOP can’t compromise even when they agree?

    The good news is that action is being taken to assist the 5% of Minnesotans who purchase their medical insurance on the open market, without other subsidies. The bad news is that the DFL plan would provide that relief without regard to income and the GOP plan, which does take income into account after the first three months, may take months to actually put money in people’s pockets. There has to be a reasonable way to accomplish both.

  8. Submitted by Tim Smith on 01/13/2017 - 01:17 pm.

    Dayton created the mess

    He and his liberal dem allies created this mess and sold us a bill of goods that couldn’t possibly work. Remember when we were going to have a website (MNsure) where we could compare plans and costs would go down because of competition. It was going to be like comparing flights on Travelocity (which is really a horrible comparison).Total fallacy..

    No rates hit the market until the Governor signs off on them. He saw the numbers in June and if the increases were unfair he had total authority to send them back to the insurance company and ask for lower ones. In reality he saw the numbers and had no basis to deny the increases. HE had all summer and fall to fix the mess but sat on it.

  9. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/13/2017 - 01:28 pm.

    The difference between non-profits and for-profits is negligible

    at best.

    There may have been a time when a non-profit health care insurance or care system was inherently better than a for-profit. I don’t know. What I do know, after 30 years experience with insurance of all kinds, is that there is none today.

    Every insurance policy on the face of the earth contains two basic terms: what is covered and what is not. Here in Minnesota, we required that all medical insurance policies contain certain coverages, long before the advent of the ACA/Obamacare. So did many other states, just as some states left it to the companies to determine what they offered and under what conditions. Blame it on our populist roots and our well-earned distrust of insurers generally in the 19th and 20th centuries.(Fire insurance policies were so bad we had to write one and require every policy to include the coverages and conditions it contained. So, too, with auto policies.)

    The ACA did this for the nation as a whole and limited the administrative costs/profits to no more than 20% of revenues, whether non-profit or for-profit. (of course, this is one of the provisions that many insurers and free-market advocates would see fall as part of the repeal and replacement of the ACA.) Yet, policies continue to contain exclusions, even though there may be fewer.

    The real fight is not about for-profit and non-profit. It is about uniformity of coverage. Will for-profits be required to offer the same mandated coverages (state or federal) and to adhere to the same appeal procedures when payment for treatment is declined? That is my concern. To date, I haven’t read of any legislator, DFL or GOP, raising the issue.

    • Submitted by Tim Smith on 01/13/2017 - 02:06 pm.

      not true

      the 80/20 rule doesn’t relate to profits, 80% of revenues must be paid in claims, 20% for admin costs. That provision ended up with a $2-3 billions in rebates to consumers, but when you compare that to several trillion in claims, it ended up being not much more than a rounding error (divide one into the other).

  10. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/13/2017 - 01:46 pm.

    The difference between non-profits and for-profits is negligible

    at best.

    There may have been a time when a non-profit health care insurance or care system was inherently better than a for-profit. I don’t know. What I do know, after 30 years experience with insurance of all kinds, is that there is none today.

    Every insurance policy on the face of the earth contains two basic terms: what is covered and what is not. Here in Minnesota, we required that all medical insurance policies contain certain coverages, long before the advent of the ACA/Obamacare. So did many other states, just as some states left it to the companies to determine what they offered and under what conditions. Blame it on our populist roots and our well-earned distrust of insurers generally in the 19th and 20th centuries.(Fire insurance policies were so bad we had to write one and require every policy to include the coverages and conditions it contained. So, too, with auto policies.)

    The ACA did this for the nation as a whole and limited the administrative costs/profits to no more than 20% of revenues, whether non-profit or for-profit. (of course, this is one of the provisions that many insurers and free-market advocates would see fall as part of the repeal and replacement of the ACA.) Yet, policies continue to contain exclusions, even though there may be fewer.

    The real fight is not about for-profit and non-profit. It is about uniformity of coverage. Will for-profits be required to offer the same mandated coverages (state or federal) and to adhere to the same appeal procedures when payment for treatment is declined? That is my concern. To date, I haven’t read of any legislator, DFL or GOP, raising the issue.

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