Lawmakers push to keep state health care program
ST. PAUL -- Thousands of lower-income Minnesotans could continue to get health insurance from the state even as major reforms take root under a plan lawmakers moved forward Wednesday.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the state needs to update and continue MinnesotaCare, a health insurance program that serves "people who are working but don't have access to affordable health care."
"MinnesotaCare's future is in doubt," Murphy said, because of changes such as the state's new health insurance exchange signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Murphy's bill would make some changes to "modernize" the program and help it meet standards of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The House Health and Human Services Policy Committee sent Murphy's bill to the Health Finance Committee on a voice vote.
The MinnesotaCare program would cover those who earn between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said is between roughly $15,000 and $23,000 for single individuals.
Those who make less typically are part of the state's Medicaid program.
If the state did not keep MinnesotaCare, those in that income range would need to choose a commercial health insurance plan and use subsidies, such as federal tax credits.
"This has been so valuable to many people in the past," Jesson said of MinnesotaCare. About 130,000 people use the program now.
Advocates said the MinnesotaCare program is a better fit than typical health insurance plans for people in that income range.
Paul Sobocinski of the Land Stewardship Project said his organization often works with young people who are just starting out in farming.
"Health care is an issue for beginning farmers," he said. Sobocinski said the MinnesotaCare program is a better option for those people because of the coverage available for the cost.
National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota director Sue Abderholden said MinnesotaCare offers better mental health care and that is critical for lower-income people.
"There is a link between mental illness and poverty," she said.
Jesson said the program's health insurance premiums are overall less expensive than those that are likely to be part of the health insurance exchange. The deductibles for coverage also are lower as well, which she said could encourage more people to visit doctors or hospitals as needed.
Murphy's bill would make some changes to the existing program, such as eliminating the $10,000 yearly cap on hospital expenses.
The commissioner said the new mostly online health insurance marketplace process planned to start in October could help some people not on MinnesotaCare find out they are eligible for the program.