- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Republican legislative leaders vowed Thursday to quickly approve their own plan to offset massive health insurance premium hikes, but it could get hung up due to disagreements with Gov. Mark Dayton.

Since the session began Tuesday, politicians from both parties have made addressing the rate hikes - up to 67 percent in 2017 - their top priority. Gov. Mark Dayton has called for a state-funded rebate that would cover 25 percent of monthly premiums for residents who buy individual coverage through the state-run marketplace but make too much to qualify for federal subsidies.

The GOP’s plan would eventually adjust rebates based upon income: Consumers making three times the federal poverty level - about $71,000 for a family of four - would get a rebate for 30 percent of their insurance costs, while those making more would see 25 percent or less. The relief would be capped for those making eight times the poverty level.

“We’re going to move as quickly as we can to get relief in the hands of Minnesotans,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt said. House GOP plans to quickly pass their bill Thursday hit a procedural snag, while even slower movement was expected from the Senate.

Daudt and top Republicans said the GOP-suggested income restrictions squeeze the most out of the estimated $300 million needed to cover rising health insurance costs.

But Dayton and his administration said that kind of calculation is too cumbersome for his state agencies to deploy quick relief. Even Dayton’s plan, a system introduced more than two months ago and doesn’t require any income verification, would take several months to implement. With tax season approaching, setting up systems to verify insurance coverage, check income for 2017 and send out money could delay the launch even further and stick the state with extra costs.

“It would take months,” Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said.

Yet the GOP has the muscle to shape the solution, holding both legislative chambers, and is using the power to insist on broader changes to the individual health care market. One provision would allow for-profit insurers to begin selling in Minnesota, a move meant to increase the number of plans available after several major providers left the state’s marketplace.

Dayton said he’s willing to entertain that and other changes, but said lawmakers should focus first on sending him a stand-alone financial help bill.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka wouldn’t say which changes Republicans deem non-negotiable.

“I think most reasonable Minnesotans would say if you’re going spend $300 million, you should make some changes in the underlying problem,” Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said.

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