Dahms discusses health insurance issues

ST. PAUL – Between Senate floor votes Thursday at the State Capitol, District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, discussed affordable health insurance legislation.

Dahms said the exchange, which is estimated to cost $62 million a year, will serve 1.2 million Minnesotans. It is designed for consumers and small businesses to use a website to search and compare health insurance plans. Other features include a hotline to talk to someone about options, and community places to sign up.

Consumers can enroll in the Exchange beginning in October 2013 with health plan coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

“We keep hearing about the program driving down medical insurance costs 40 to 50 percent but insurance companies say they can’t operate that way, so hospitals, doctors, and clinics will be squeezed,” Dahms said. “I think this will drive us to single-payer products.”

Dahms said his amendment to increase Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed seven-person board to manage the exchange plus adding conflict of interest language, was defeated.

“The board of seven will allow four people to decide what’s best for you,” Dahms said. “A 60-day rule allows you to appeal rulings back to the board. Exchange (insurance policy) costs could be cut 10 percent, but non-exchange policies could go up 29 to 49 percent. I think most insured younger folks up to age 35 not in the Exchange will choose cafeteria plans and pay the $95 penalty while uninsured people will use the Exchange.”

Addressing another topic, Dahms said there is significant legislative “push back” against Dayton’s proposal to expand sales taxes for services. County officials said adding sales taxes to more items would create more paperwork and related costs.

He voiced support for putting Highway 14 improvement plans on the Minnesota Highway Department (MnDOT) 20-year and fast track lists.

“The Minnesota River bridge and Highway 14-15 intersection projects set to be done within the next two years should be done together,” Dahms said. “It makes safety and economic sense.”

District 16B Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, echoed Dahms on Dayton’s sales tax expansion.

“It got a cool reception,” Torkelson said. “You get this big circle going, taking away some things and adding on others. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense.”

He said the Healthcare Exchange is one of the most important pieces of legislation this year.

“With very little oversight, especially for governance and privacy issues, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Torkelson said. “There is lots of federal money now. Will it be there down the road?”

Brown County Family Services Director Tom Henderson said the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHR) shifted millions of dollars from rural to suburban counties.

“The future of the family is what I’m concerned about – funding child and adult protection,” Henderson said. “Some rural counties, like Cass, that have many residents on reservations, have nearly no money. We’ll get difficult situations to deal with.”

New Ulm City Manager Brian Gramentz asked if there would be any legislative action on the Market Value Homestead Exclusion issue.

Torkelson said there was only talk behind the scenes. “The governor wants property tax rebates, but not reform. I think the property tax rebates will eventually disappear. The State can’t afford them,” he said. “We need a new structured property tax system. A working group did a report on it, but none of it was proposed by the Governor.”

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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