- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 24

Health care gets personal at Minnesota Capitol

Gov. Mark Dayton wanted a new health insurance option for Minnesotans - not his own health - to be the headline as he sent a 2018-19 budget proposal to the Legislature. But with a fainting spell during a major address Monday and the revelation of a cancer diagnosis Tuesday, Dayton’s well-being became the talk of the Capitol.

The DFL governor inadvertently underscored a reality that ought to drive this year’s health policy debate: Health issues are unpredictable, and spare no one.

After presenting a $45.3 billion 2018-19 budget that includes a proposal to allow all Minnesotans to enroll in MinnesotaCare, the 25-year-old, state-subsidized insurance option for low-income people, Dayton almost casually told reporters that he was diagnosed last week with prostate cancer.



The two-term governor, who will turn 70 Thursday, said he considers himself able to continue to serve in office. “As far as I know, there are no brain cells in my prostate,” he joked. The disease is one that generally responds well to treatment, he said.

The Republicans who control both chambers of the Legislature were quick to wish the governor a full recovery. But they also signaled their opposition to a number of his budget ideas. They seem particularly resistant to Dayton’s proposal to turn MinnesotaCare into a full-blown “public option” that can compete with the not-for-profit health insurance plans currently on offer at the MNsure exchange. Dayton’s proposal was denigrated by Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, as “doubling-down on government plans that will lead to fewer providers and scarcer care.”

That’s one view of the possible consequences of a MinnesotaCare expansion, but it’s not the only one. Others see lower costs for consumers, increased competition and the assurance of at least one individual health insurance option in every corner of the state - something not guaranteed today.

A year ago, a health care financing task force created jointly by Dayton and the 2015 Legislature recommended raising the income eligibility threshold for MinnesotaCare. Republican legislators should at least conduct hearings to examine that idea as well as Dayton’s proposal to allow Minnesotans at all income levels to enroll.

They should also seriously consider Dayton’s recommendation that the 2 percent provider tax that has underwritten MinnesotaCare for a quarter century be continued indefinitely. That tax is now due to disappear in 2019. If it goes, MinnesotaCare and a portion of Minnesota’s Medicaid funding will be in jeopardy.

In other respects, Dayton’s budget proposal contains few surprises. He seeks a substantial increase in funding for education from preschool through college, but - in a bow to fiscal as well as political reality - he did not renew his earlier call to require all school districts to offer preschool for 4-year-olds.

To his credit, he aims several proposals at helping low- and middle-income families afford quality child care - an important move in a state that needs to keep as many young parents in the workforce as possible while giving more children the benefit of preschool experiences.

He allowed that in a separate message to the Legislature, he will again propose a gas tax increase to pay for highway improvements - which Republicans said they will again oppose. That impasse and consequent inaction have been the transportation funding story throughout Dayton’s governorship.

We’re rooting for something to happen this year to change that narrative. Dayton offered a suggestion Tuesday: “If I’d known (fainting) would result in the Republicans not criticizing my speech, I might have tried it years ago,” he quipped. We’d prefer a less drastic tactic.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Jan. 24

Pass simple health insurance relief bill

The Republican leadership in the Legislature took a wrong turn by passing a health insurance premium relief bill that Gov. Mark Dayton will not likely sign.

The Minnesota House and Senate GOP majorities recently passed bills to provide about $300 million in premium relief to those facing 50 to 60 percent price increases on the individual market. The effect of the premium relief will be somewhat similar to what Dayton had proposed months ago.

But House and Senate bills carried additional policy questions that Dayton has said he is not ready to deal with in some cases and outright opposes in other cases.

The House bill seems particularly troublesome as it makes major changes to state policy to allow for-profit HMOs to come into the state and reduces some of the requirements for basic coverage plans sold in Minnesota. Those are two big questions that require much more legislative vetting and more bipartisan support before they are approved.

Allowing for-profit HMOs into the state marketplace is not an inherently bad idea. The goal should be to increase competition in this marketplace where consumers seem to have fewer and fewer choices. But how these HMOs operate and the rules governing this new competition need to be vetted. Selling policies without the current state-mandated coverage may lower premiums and increase competition, but the impact of cutting people off from the availability of these services also requires more study.

Two other provisions in the House bill, allowing agriculture cooperatives to participate in health plans and allowing hospitals and clinics to appeal decisions to drop them from networks, are interesting ideas. But again, they change the nature of the market and there needs to be more discussion on their impact.

The House and Senate are scheduled to meet this week to hammer out a compromise bill. We urge them to keep it focused on emergency premium relief and not tie controversial policy positions to a bill just to play politics. A bill the governor vetoes may provide political fodder for the next election, but it won’t help those smothering under huge health insurance bills.

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St. Cloud Times, Jan. 21

Sunday liquor sales: Put consumers first

Few issues demonstrate the power of special interests at the Minnesota Legislature better than the decades-long battle to repeal the ban on Sunday liquor sales.

Indeed, if this unsettled issue was a bottle of Scotch, its age alone would make it a top-shelf brand.

The populist, consumer-driven message is clear: Give liquors stores the choice to be open on Sundays.

That’s a message this board has supported for years, and it’s one Central Minnesotans should deliver to their legislators as they again examine this issue.

Pure special interests

The reasons not to do so are unequivocally special-interest:

- The current approach works fine. (The argument from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, the largest lobbying group on this issue.)

- It’s not fair to workers. (Used by anyone from Teamsters who don’t want to deliver on Sundays to store owners, some of whom also resist higher minimum wages and don’t offer health care.)

- It’s the Lord’s day. (Socially conservative, Christian-based message that drove the idea into law about a century ago.)

Common sense move

If legislators truly represent their voters in St. Paul, it should be easy to find majorities in the House and Senate to repeal this antiquated, nonsensical ban.

All consumers are seeking is for liquor stores to have the option to open their doors on a day many of them have time to shop.

It does not force stores to be open. It simply gives them the choice - which is especially important if you’re a liquor store owner near or on one of the state’s borders. After all, Wisconsin, Iowa, the Dakotas and even Canada all sell liquor on Sundays.

Get with the times

The other common argument used in favor of the liquor ban is rooted in Prohibition and invoking one set of morals and beliefs on all citizens.

From workweeks that routinely include Sundays to freedom from religion to the hypocrisy of shuttering liquor stores but allowing restaurants to serve liquor on Sundays, that’s just not a valid position in modern-day Minnesota.

To say nothing of how more than 35 other states allow liquor to be sold on Sundays.

It’s not that Minnesota’s government should mandate liquor stores be open seven days a week. Rather, it’s that government should get out of the way and let each business decide for itself what days it should be open.

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