Minnesota needs better health care options

posted April 3, 2017 8:58 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Dave Frederickson

Minnesota farmers are some of the best in the world at what they do. We have been blessed with incredibly fertile soils, ample rainfall and an unmatched innovative spirit and work ethic.

The success of our agricultural economy has been a cornerstone of our state’s rural communities and has been the underpinning of our state’s success.

Today, farmers and rural communities are facing significant head winds. Farm commodity prices are low. Input prices remain high. Farm profitability has plummeted in recent years.

We all know that when farm prices are low, the impact ripples through the main streets of Minnesota. One way we work to offset this is through crop insurance, which serves as a safety net for our farm families.

As farm profitability has gone down, individual health insurance market premiums in rural areas and across our state have skyrocketed. Many rural families are paying premium hikes of 40 to 60 percent over last year’s cost. For example, a family of four in Owatonna is paying $29,772 per year in health care premiums today. Many of these plans are high-deductible plans with limited coverage options.

The bottom line is that Minnesota needs better, more affordable health care choices.

That is why Gov. Mark Dayton and state legislators have outlined a solution to reduce costs and expand coverage options for all Minnesotans.

In 1992, Gov. Arne Carlson and a bipartisan coalition of legislators created MinnesotaCare — a health insurance plan that provides coverage to Minnesota’s low-income families. Today, more than 100,000 Minnesotans have MinnesotaCare, which offers a high-quality coverage plan at more affordable prices.

Now, some 25 years later, the governor and state legislators want to build on the successes of MinnesotaCare to lower the prices for more Minnesotans and their families. The plan would allow everyone who buys their insurance on the individual marketplace to have the added choice to buy into MinnesotaCare.

The process of choosing MinnesotaCare would be similar to buying crop insurance. Working with their local agent, farmers would select the plan that works best for them and their family. In areas that have other health care options, MinnesotaCare would be another tool in the toolbox.

The result would be higher-quality health care options at a far lower cost compared to the individual market today. For example, on average, MinnesotaCare insurance would cost about $469 per person per month — this is 12 percent less than the 2017 average monthly premium for commercial health plans. Savings for families would also be significant — that family of four living in Owatonna could see an annual savings of $5,820 per year.

Furthermore, Minnesotans who choose MinnesotaCare would pay their own way — which means that after an initial start-up investment, their premiums would fully pay for their coverage without any additional costs to taxpayers. And, MinnesotaCare consumers would still be eligible for federal tax credits through MNsure.

There have been more than two decades worth of discussion about the lack of health insurance options in Minnesota. MinnesotaCare addresses this problem and expands choices for Minnesota families. It has a broad network of physicians and health care providers that offers more families more options.

I urge Minnesota farmers and rural residents to support the governor’s proposal to let all Minnesotans buy into MinnesotaCare. The original program was the product of a bipartisan effort in 1992. It’s time to set aside our political differences and address real issues Minnesotans are facing. This plan can be a bipartisan effort again.

Dave Frederickson is Minnesota agriculture commissioner. 

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