- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - After months of back and forth and uncertainty over whether lawmakers would help more than 100,000 shoppers offset skyrocketing health insurance premiums, Minnesota’s Legislature closed in on a plan Wednesday that will shave hundreds of dollars off monthly payments starting in April.

House and Senate negotiators signed off on a plan that would use more than $300 million from a state reserve fund to cut premiums by 25 percent. Both chambers are expected to give it final passage on Thursday, and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he’ll sign it despite some reservations about other policy changes in the bill.

The financial help will only be extended to residents who don’t get federal subsidies on the individual market, where shoppers who aren’t covered by employers or enrolled on public programs get coverage. State officials say insurance plans could begin reducing monthly premiums by April or earlier, and would also reimburse shoppers for higher payments in previous months.

Minnesota is grappling with some of the largest rate increases in the nation for 2017, driven by higher-than-expected medical costs from a small, severely sick population in the individual market. The average increases of 50 percent to 67 percent sent top lawmakers scrambling for a solution, but Dayton and the Republicans who control the Legislature spent months arguing over how to help. The end result was a case of classic political trading.

Republicans pushed for an income-based approach that would cap state support for higher earners, but they eventually agreed with Dayton’s plan to route money directly through insurers in order to get it delivered faster. In exchange, Dayton said he would sign a bill with broader health law changes like allowing for-profit companies to sell in Minnesota next year.

Other measures would help cover medical costs from severely ill patients whose plans were discontinued this year and allow farmers to form co-ops to buy group insurance coverage.

Open enrollment ends Jan. 31, and state officials worried that the sticker shock and months of confusion would scare shoppers away from buying coverage altogether before that deadline. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said the state will launch an awareness campaign to let people know that help is on the way.

“They need to go buy insurance,” said Republican Sen. Michelle Benson. “We have a lot of people who were sort of holding their breath, trying to figure out if they can afford this.”


Follow Kyle Potter on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/kpottermn

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