The Minnesota State Legislature has until midnight on Monday, May 22, to decide on a budget for Minnesota. As of today, no budgets have been passed. Things change by the hour, with important decisions happening behind closed doors, away from public input. The bottom line is that, without citizens in the room, who will be prioritized in the final budget?
The healthcare proposals being pushed by the Legislature take care of insurance companies, but threaten care for families.
The Legislature has given almost $900 million this session to health insurance companies — the same ones that have hiked premiums and raised deductibles beyond affordability, while covering less. The Legislature first spent more than $300 million to buy down insurance companies’ high premiums for 2017, then $540 million more for a “reinsurance” program to protect insurance companies from losing money. For all this, we do not have any guarantees that insurance will be more affordable or of better quality in 2018. Insurance companies get protection. Families? Not so much.
After taking care of insurance companies, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate have proposed a budget that could hurt healthcare coverage for many thousands of Minnesota families. The Legislature proposed cutting as much as $500 million from the Health and Human Services budget, which funds Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare to provide health coverage for children, people with disabilities and low-income Minnesotans. The budget also could lead to the backdoor elimination of MinnesotaCare, by getting rid of MNsure and eliminating a way for people to sign up for the program.
There’s more. The Legislature decided to allow for-profit health insurance companies to join Minnesota’s healthcare market. At stake are the public assets held by nonprofit HMOs — about $7 billion in assets and $3 billion in reserves — which have been built up with public help over decades via tax breaks, public contracts and subsidies. Unless protections are put into law, these public assets could be turned over to private profits and big payouts to insurance company executives if the companies turn themselves into for-profits. (See these pieces by the Minnesota Attorney General and the Star Tribune editorial board for more on for-profit HMO conversion.)
The Land Stewardship Project believes:
• MinnesotaCare provides essential support for 100,000 Minnesotans, and it must be preserved and protected.
• We should not let for-profit HMOs walk away with our public money. We need strong protections in law for the public in case nonprofit HMOs choose to become for-profit.
• We should not cut $500 million from programs that make sure families and children have access to quality healthcare, when we have a budget surplus and have found nearly $900 million in funds to protect insurance companies.
In the final days of the session, it’s important for legislators to continue hearing from us.