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ST. PAUL — At town halls across the state, I have heard from people struggling to find quality health insurance. At one meeting, I heard about a farmer who pays $28,000 for his health insurance with a $13,000 deductible. He pays $41,000 out of pocket before he or his wife get any help from their health insurance.

Insurance with crippling costs is hardly any assurance at all.

Too many Minnesotans, especially farmers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs in Greater Minnesota, face unacceptably high insurance costs. Instead of asking Minnesotans to fend for themselves, Governor Dayton and I think there might be a better way that builds on decades of bipartisan health care innovation.

In 1992, Republican Governor Arne Carlson and a DFL Legislature worked together to allow lower-income, working Minnesotans to leverage their collective purchasing power to buy more affordable health insurance for themselves and their families. They called it “MinnesotaCare.”

MinnesotaCare is a source of quality, affordable insurance for a 100,000 working families each year. It provides access to a robust network of doctors and hospitals all across the state.

Right now a family of four with an income above $49,000 cannot buy MinnesotaCare. That’s not fair. That is why Governor Dayton and I proposed MinnesotaCare Buy-In, which would allow all Minnesotans to buy coverage. Here is how Minnesotans would benefit:

More Affordable Health Care. MinnesotaCare Buy-In would leverage the buying power of more than 1.2 million Minnesotans enrolled in public programs to deliver lower premiums for people paying their own way. In fact, we expect health premiums with MinnesotaCare Buy-In would be lower than other commercial plans, and deductibles would be reasonable and affordable.

Cost Saving Tax Credits. Minnesotans who choose MinnesotaCare Buy-In also would be eligible for federal tax credits available through MNsure. This year, over 70 percent of MNsure customers will receive tax credits averaging $7,656 per year.

A Guaranteed Choice in Every County. With MinnesotaCare Buy-In, Minnesotans in every county would have one more quality option to choose from when they buy their coverage. This would be welcome news to the thousands of Minnesotans who live in counties where only one health insurer offers plans for purchase.

Better Access to More Doctors. Limited health insurance options in Greater Minnesota make it difficult for some Minnesotans to choose and keep their doctors. But the broad network of physicians available through MinnesotaCare would offer more families across Minnesota a real option to choose their own doctors.

To be clear, Minnesotans enrolled in MinnesotaCare Buy-In would pay their own way. MinnesotaCare Buy-In would only cost $12 million to set-up. After that, MinnesotaCare Buy-In enrollee premiums would cover the full cost of operating the program. Minnesota taxpayers would pay $0 in ongoing expenses.

In contrast, the Republican reinsurance program passed earlier this year will reduce premiums for two years, but at a cost of $542 million. Minnesota simply cannot afford to send $270 million a year to insurance companies. It is not financially responsible or sustainable.

Governor Dayton and I are ready to compromise with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to improve the MinnesotaCare Buy-In proposal. In fact, we already have.

Based on feedback from health care providers, we adjusted the proposal to reimburse providers at the same rates as Medicare and we are willing to do more. We also know that by helping 100,000 Minnesotans afford insurance, doctors and hospitals could avoid expensive uncompensated care costs that they must otherwise absorb.

Unfortunately, MinnesotaCare Buy-In did not get a hearing in the Minnesota House of Representatives last year. Minnesotans deserve to have this bill heard and fully considered by their Legislature. We understand that no idea is perfect. We hope the Legislature will work with us to improve it and provide Minnesotans with another health insurance choice.

Now is the time to put aside our partisan differences, and work together to improve people’s lives. We should act now to deliver this commonsense, cost-saving reform for Minnesotans.

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