Dayton resumes push to open up MinnesotaCare coverage


ST. PAUL — Most greater Minnesota residents have one or two choices for health insurers, which Gov. Mark Dayton said shows a need to expand a state health insurance program to everyone.

The state-subsidized MinnesotaCare insurance program especially could help farmers, who often struggle with finding and affording health care coverage, Dayton said.

The plan is not new; Democrat Dayton unsuccessfully pushed it last year, but the Republican-controlled Legislature did not consider it. There is no sign that the GOP has changed, but Dayton said the Nov. 6 election could influence Republicans to change their votes.

State Sen. Tony Lourey, D-Kerrick, and President Gary Wertish of the Minnesota Farmers Union said they attended meetings around the state in recent months with people saying they need affordable health care.

"MinnesotaCare is a trusted source of health insurance," Lourey said of the 25-year-old program designed to help the working poor.

The state program would be better than many existing insurance plans, Lourey said, because rural Minnesotans would have access to their own doctors, which often does not happen now.

Farmers Union members report paying up to $43,000 a year for health care, Wertish said, including premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

One member, Wertish added, said he needed to find places to trim his farm expenses, but the only place he could find to cut was health insurance.

"You are putting your whole economic future at risk" without insurance, Wertish said.

Dayton said the choice is simple: support MinnesotaCare expansion or support private health insurers.

Republicans say they favor allowing the private marketplace work, which would result in lower costs.

Dayton's plan would sell MinnesotaCare through the online MNsure health insurance website, which most legislative Republicans want to end.