Dayton wants quick health cost fix, but GOP wants reform too

The full House Chamber.
Representatives from across the state fill the House Chamber on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton called on GOP leaders Tuesday morning to act quickly this week on his plan to provide health insurance relief to thousands of Minnesotans who are facing big health insurance premium increases.

Republicans say they want relief too, but not quite that fast.

Dayton's proposal would provide an estimated 125,000 people a 25 percent reduction on their individual market health insurance premiums.

It's essentially the same plan Dayton proposed for a special session that never materialized last year, and he sees no reason for further delay.

"The open enrollment period ends Jan. 31, and Minnesotans are still making decisions about what level of health coverage they can afford," he said. "Knowing that they're going to get this relief is just vitally important to their decisions, and we need to act on it immediately."

Health insurance legislation is a top priority for Republicans too. But the soonest they could pass anything is next week, according to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman. The first opportunity to introduce House bills is Thursday.

Daudt said Republicans want the insurance relief bill to also address some health care access deficiencies.

"Minnesotans are going to find out very shortly when they try to make appointments to see their doctors for ongoing continuing cancer treatments that their doctors are no longer covered under their plan and their policy," he said. "So, we need to we need to take action on that just as swiftly as we do on premium relief."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazleka has a different must-have for the insurance relief bill. He wants a provision that protects healthy policy holders from bearing the expense of high-risk participants.

"If we don't deal with that issue, we're going to be at the same place next year, and I just don't want to do that," said Gazelka.

Dayton is set to add more proposals to the early-session discussion. He'll release what he described as a "robust" plan for public construction projects on Wednesday and a tax bill proposal on Thursday. Neither is expected to match what Republicans have in mind.

Both GOP leaders stressed the importance of reaching agreement with the governor on something that he's willing to sign when it reaches his desk.

That will be a recurring necessity throughout the session. The last time Dayton had to work with an all-Republican Legislature, there was a budget stalemate that resulted in a government shutdown.

Dayton and Daudt are trying to repair their working relationship after last month's public falling out over the failed special session. Daudt is urging the governor to be a more involved in the legislative debate this session.

"One of the things that we've heard from people is they don't like when business bunches up at the very last few hours of session," Daudt said. "We need to make sure that we're conducting business of Minnesotans in a transparent way, in committee, during the legislation session. We need the governor and his commissioners to be active participants in that process in order for Minnesotans to feel like they were included in the process."

Dayton said last month's dustup with Daudt was "not indicative" of their relationship of the past two years. But looking ahead, Dayton said the next five months won't be easy.

"I'm willing to be as congenial as I can be," Dayton said. "But I learned in 2011 there's a limit to where that congeniality runs up against this very significant ideological and policy differences that we have. Those are genuine."