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Minnesotans deserve cheaper, better healthcare

During a town hall meeting at Duluth City Hall, Teri Haapala stood up to tell her health care story. Unfortunately, Teri's story is all too familiar for many Minnesota families. Teri's husband recently retired. Without employer-based health coverage, Teri needed to buy health insurance on the individual market. But when she began shopping for insurance, Teri learned her premiums would increase 85 percent. Her deductible also increased 900 percent — meaning Teri had health insurance, but she could not afford to use it.

"Who can afford an 85 percent increase in anything?" Teri asked. "My hope is that the state of Minnesota can stop the roller coaster. It sounds wonderful."

The "it" Teri mentioned is a proposal Gov. Mark Dayton and I are urging the Legislature to pass this year. The plan — authored by state Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, and state Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato — is called "MinnesotaCare Buy-In," and it would help Minnesotans like Teri purchase more affordable health insurance, saving them money on their premiums every month.

Here is how it would work.

In 1992, Republican Gov. Arne Carlson and a DFL Legislature worked together to allow lower-income working Minnesotans leverage their collective purchasing power to buy more affordable health insurance for themselves and their families. They called that bipartisan innovation "MinnesotaCare."

MinnesotaCare has worked well for 25 years, giving 100,000 working families a year the choice to buy the insurance they need at prices they can better afford. This nation-leading solution has helped Minnesota achieve one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country; has driven down costly uncompensated care for doctors, clinics, and hospitals; and significantly has improved the quality of health care in our state.

Because of MinnesotaCare, families who otherwise could not afford health insurance now have it. But far too many Minnesotans are still struggling with huge health insurance bills and are not allowed to purchase MinnesotaCare coverage because they make too much money.

That is not fair, and it needs to change. That is why we have proposed giving all Minnesotans who purchase their health coverage on the individual market the option to "buy-in" to MinnesotaCare. At least another 100,000 Minnesotans would have better, more affordable care because of it.

With MinnesotaCare Buy-In, those who purchase MinnesotaCare would pay their own way. Just like with other health plans, their premiums would pay for the entire cost of coverage — not taxpayers. Unlike the $542 million from taxpayers we gave to insurance companies last session just to hold down rising health premiums, we expect the MinnesotaCare Buy-In to cost only $12 million to get started and then cost taxpayers $0 every year after that. So don't let anyone tell you this is a government takeover of health care in Minnesota. It just isn't.

Minnesotans would benefit from:

• More affordable health care: Because MinnesotaCare leverages the buying power of more than 1.2 million Minnesotans, premiums can be significantly lower. In fact, we expect health premiums with MinnesotaCare Buy-In to be lower than with other commercial plans. And deductibles would be reasonable and affordable.

• Cost-saving tax credits: Minnesotans who choose MinnesotaCare Buy-In would still also be eligible for federal tax credits available through MNsure. This year, over 70 percent of MNsure customers will receive tax credits averaging $7,656.

• A guaranteed choice in every county: With MinnesotaCare Buy-In, Minnesotans in every county would have one more quality option to choose from when they buy their coverage. This would be welcome news to the thousands of Minnesotans who live in counties where only one health insurer offers plans for purchase.

• Better access to more doctors: The broad network of physicians available through MinnesotaCare would offer more families across Minnesota real options to choose their own doctors.

• Paying doctors for quality care: After hearing concerns from some doctors, clinics, and hospitals that payments for care through this plan would be too low, we made some adjustments. Now, the MinnesotaCare Buy-In proposal would reimburse health providers at the same rates as Medicare, at a minimum.