State lawmakers trade barbs over MNsure rate woes

State Rep. Greg Davids and other House Republicans outline proposals for lowering health insurance costs. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Minnesota lawmakers called Wednesday for a quick fix to the state’s troubled individual health insurance market, which is expected to see huge premium increases in January.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said during a news conference that solutions are needed quickly to avoid a “health care crisis.”

“The price hikes that were announced recently of 50 or 60 percent or more are absolutely unaffordable for Minnesota families,” Daudt said. “This is really unacceptable.”

Daudt and other Republican legislators outlined several proposals aimed at lowering health care costs. They want tax breaks, direct premium relief, greater billing transparency and some federal waivers to expand coverage choices. Another proposal would end the health insurance exchange known as MNsure.

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Daudt blamed Democrats for ignoring the crisis and for blocking previous GOP attempts to change MNsure.

“We’ve put forth some real solutions that will help Minnesotans immediately,” he said. “They’re not going to be the silver bullet or answer to everyone’s problems, but it will be a start. But what I need is a Democrat in the state of Minnesota to admit that there’s a crisis and to join in solving that problem.”

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, also urged Democrats help address the issue.

“We didn’t create the mess, but we’re willing to help clean up your mess,” Davids said.

House Democrats followed with their own news conference and their own election-year finger pointing.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said too many families are struggling with increasing health care and insurance costs, and he's willing to meet this week to discuss potential solutions. But Thissen criticized Republicans for not taking action during their past two years in the majority.

“Republicans have a pattern of waiting until the last minute and then trying to say ‘oh man, we have an emergency and we need to solve it.’ That’s what they’re doing again,” Thissen said. “Where have you been for two years?”

The Minnesota Department of Commerce says about 5 percent of state residents, roughly 250,000, currently purchase health coverage on the individual market. Most Minnesotans are covered through employer insurance or public programs.

In announcing the 2017 rates last week, state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said the increases were the result a disproportionate concentration of people with serious medical conditions in the individual market.