Health rebate plan, enrollment extension put on table

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a health care cost rebate for people bracing for big insurance spikes next year and said Thursday he would be willing to request a one-month enrollment extension suggested by Republicans.

The steps served, at least temporarily, to ratchet down the political temperature over alarming trends in health care. A day earlier, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, angrily charged Dayton was not doing enough to respond to massive jumps in premiums awaiting people who purchase coverage through the individual market.

Dayton framed the rebate as a short-term fix to an urgent situation. He said was developed in recent weeks under tight criteria.

"One, we have to be able to start it and administer it under severe time constraints. Those realities greatly limit our options. Two, the program has to provide immediate financial assistance to people who would otherwise face excessive insurance price increases," Dayton said. "And three, the proposal can cost no more than the amount of the additional surplus, currently estimated to be $313 million."

Dayton's proposal is far from a done deal. It would require approval by the Legislature, perhaps in a special session. It would take participation by the health plans, which would have to administer the program with state dollars in order to get the relief out sooner.

Under the proposal, subscribers who don't qualify for federal health tax credits would get a 25 percent rebate on premiums each month in 2017. So for a Duluth family of four, the Dayton administration calculated it could mean a $413 monthly price break although their premium increase over the prior year would still be in the double digits.

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People who get tax credits for insurance they buy through MNsure would not be part of the rebate program. Some 100,000 people qualify for financial assistance through MNsure but are not taking advantage of it, Dayton said. But 123,000 Minnesota insurance shoppers earn too much for the federal subsidies and could get socked with premium jumps as high as 67 percent.

Dayton said he had called all four caucus leaders -- reaching only one prior to his plan's public rollout -- and consulted with a representative for the health plan providers. Dayton has urged lawmakers to agree to a health insurance response plan by next Tuesday so he could schedule a post-election special session. Nov. 1 is also the beginning of 2017 health care enrollment through MNsure.

Meanwhile, Dayton reacted favorably to a call by Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, to seek more time for insurance enrollment. Davids said Dayton should ask federal officials to give Minnesota customers an extra month to sign up for 2017 coverage to give leaders extra time to present fixes that could draw more options into the market.

"I'm inclined to say I would do that," Dayton said, praising Davids for coming forward with the type of "constructive suggestion to deal with this current predicament that I really welcome and appreciate."

Davids, the House Tax Committee chairman, also proposed expanding tax credits to help people with out-of-network costs if their current doctor isn't part of a new insurance network. And he said other tax credits should be extended to people who shop outside MNsure. Dayton didn't offer an appraisal of those ideas.

"We know this is a crisis facing Minnesota families, and it's clear we must address both cost and choice as we approach the open enrollment period," Davids wrote to Dayton.