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Lawmakers returned to the Minnesota State Capitol Jan. 8, 2019, for the reconvening of the Legislature. Michael Brun / Forum News Service

Minnesota Senate advances plan to help cover health insurers' costs

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Monday, March 11, advanced a proposal to keep subsidizing health insurance companies for three years, setting up a conflict with Gov. Tim Walz and Democrats.

The proposal would maintain the reinsurance program, which lets the state absorb some of the expense to private health insurers to offset the cost of care for some of the pricier claims they cover.

The Senate voted 37-28 to advance the bill, with some Democrats voting with their GOP peers in favor. Attempts to gut the bill to get it in line with a health insurance rebate plan put forth by Walz fell short.

Supporters said the state needs to pass an extension to its reinsurance program to ensure insurance companies have certainty as they set their rates for next year. The plan would pull from remaining funds appropriated two years ago.

“We need to make sure we keep the premiums in check,” the bill's sponsor, Sen. Gary Dahms, R- Redwood Falls, said.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, echoed the desire to get the program extended to ensure the companies have some certainty for the future as they write new rates.

"Uncertainty in the insurance market causes unnecessary increase," she said.

Opponents said the state should quit subsidizing the insurance providers and offer state funds to offset the cost to Minnesotans. They argued that the reinsurance program was meant to provide a temporary reprieve, not a permanent answer.

“This is not a fix," Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said, "it’s a very temporary solution and as we do that, we should make sure this temporary solution is done the right way."

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday said he was disappointed to see Republicans approve what he called a "blank check to health insurance companies." He put forth his proposal to set up a subsidy program to help Minnesotans afford their insurance premiums as a better option.

“The reinsurance program was supposed to be a one-time deal, and continuing it is irresponsible," Walz said in a statement. "Instead of giving away millions to insurance companies, I urge Senate Republicans to meaningfully consider my proposal, cut out the middleman, and put the money and the power back into the hands of Minnesotans.”

Earlier in the day, the Senate rejected Walz's plan when it came up for consideration as an amendment.

The reinsurance proposal passed one House committee but it must advance through others before it could be considered on the House floor.

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