Hatch: Insurance Companies Must be Held Accountable

LSP Meeting Addresses Healthcare Crisis, Possible Solutions

NEW ULM, Minn. — The current healthcare crisis in Minnesota is the result of a system that lacks transparency and accountability, according to a former commerce commissioner for the state.

“It’s a system that we keep patching instead of fixing permanently because this is an area where lobbying is extreme,” Mike Hatch told a group of 70 people gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New Ulm on Nov. 10. Besides serving as Minnesota's commerce commissioner during the 1980s, Hatch was the attorney general from 1999–2007. “It is an enormously complicated system, and it keeps getting more complicated because we just put Band Aids on it.”

The meeting was organized by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) to address a health insurance situation that has reached an unprecedented level of unaffordability. Earlier this fall, it was announced that premium costs for people on the individual market in Minnesota would rise at least 50 percent. Many farmers and business owners in rural areas get their insurance through the individual market. During the Nov. 10 meeting, participants shared stories of how in 2017 their premiums will rise while their healthcare options plummet.

Hatch said when he was commerce commissioner, he worked to hold the health insurance companies accountable for the large amount of money they kept in reserves, called “net worth.” However, the health insurance companies successfully lobbied the state Legislature to remove caps on the amount of money they could hold in reserve, which is left over from people’s premiums. As a result, the recent record premium increases are occurring despite the fact that these companies have massive amounts of reserves, according to Hatch.

Paul Sobocinski, a Wabasso, Minn., farmer and LSP organizer, said the recent premium increases for individual plans are just the clearest sign of the crisis. Many others struggle to afford insurance through an employer or the price of medications, and medical costs are rising sharply.

“It’s a whole corporate system,” Sobocinski said. “We need to reemphasize that people’s lives need to come before corporate profits.”

As a discussion happens about what should be done about the healthcare crisis, Sobocinski said it is important to stay focused on people and to hold onto progress that has been made. “We need to keep the good while weeding out the bad. Before we toss something away, we need to have something better to replace it,” said Sobocinski.

A navigator and an insurance broker who spoke at the meeting both encouraged people to look into tax credits available through MNsure.

“A lot of people say I want nothing to do with MNsure,” said Susannah Setterholm, a broker with United Prairie Insurance in New Ulm. “You may have avoided MNsure, but you can no longer avoid it—you need to see if you qualify for tax credits. With the premiums crazy high, that means the tax credits are crazy high. The reality is MNsure works.”