Rural Healthcare Dodges 'Asset Test' Bullet in 2016 Legislative Session

Despite Removal of Asset Tests & Liens, Lawmakers Miss a Major Opportunity to Help More Rural Residents Obtain Quality, Affordable Healthcare

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The healthcare picture for rural and farming communities was made slightly clearer after the Minnesota legislative session ended in chaotic fashion at midnight on May 22. A final budget agreement stopped the placement of liens on properties of people over age 55 who qualify for Medical Assistance, and the bill did not include an “asset test,” which would have disqualified families with $20,000 in assets from MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance. Both proposals would have had significant negative impacts on farm families, who rely heavily on such publicly-funded programs for basic healthcare coverage.

“The past few years we have been able to qualify for MinnesotaCare,” said Leslea Hodgson, a farmer in Fountain, Minn. “It has made such a difference not to have to worry about losing everything to medical debt. An asset test would have knocked us off MinnesotaCare and forced us to buy an expensive high-deductible plan that we couldn’t afford to use. We sure are relieved to know that the asset test will not be used against us for our MinnesotaCare coverage.”

Some Minnesota health insurance premiums increased by almost 50 percent for 2016, leading half of those buying insurance through the MNsure health insurance exchange to choose cheaper high-deductible plans that offer less coverage. The 2016 Legislature missed a significant opportunity to help these families gain access to quality, affordable healthcare, according to Paul Sobocinski, a livestock farmer in Wabasso, Minn., who is also a healthcare organizer with the Land Stewardship Project.

For example, several good recommendations came out of the Minnesota Health Care Financing Task Force, a bipartisan task force appointed by Governor Mark Dayton and the Legislature, which met throughout late 2015 to explore ways of improving Minnesota’s healthcare system. Recommendations included addressing the affordability “cliff” families experience if a rise in income forces them off of MinnesotaCare and onto the individual market, and fixing the “family glitch” that leaves spouses and children with no affordable coverage if one family member has insurance through a job.

“The Senate passed many of the positive changes suggested by the Task Force,” Sobocinski said. “But the Republican House majority refused to take any of these major steps forward on healthcare and instead tried to defund MNsure, which would cripple the way the state delivers healthcare programs like MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance.”

Sobocinski said he was glad to see the lien issue addressed and the asset test eliminated from the final legislation, but he was hoping for more from the 2016 Legislature in terms of healthcare.

“A legislative session with no progress on healthcare means many families continue to move backward,” he said. “Minnesota needs to take major steps forward on healthcare to address the real problems rural Minnesotans face.”