By Jon Tollefson
MNA Governmental Affairs Specialist
The 2016 Legislative Session has been underway for a little over one month now, and we are already close to the final stage: budget negotiations. With one of the shortest sessions in many years, the House and Senate have been moving quickly to finish work from last year on transportation and taxes, adjust government spending for this two-year period, and put together a bonding bill for major projects around the state.
When it comes to healthcare issues, the two political parties are putting forward two very different visions, and the Minnesota Nurses Association has something to say about it.
Governor Mark Dayton and Senate Democrats want to expand access to healthcare for Minnesotans, specifically through MinnesotaCare and by funding a study to consider a Single-Payer system.
MinnesotaCare provides affordable healthcare coverage ($80 per month premiums or less) to Minnesotans who work but earn a low income: up to about $24,000 per year for an individual or about $50,000 per year for a family of four. Democrats want to expand this program to allow even more people access to the benefits, and MNA supports that idea.
House Republicans have a very different vision. They want to give people vouchers to help them buy low-quality insurance on the private market. Instead of paying $80 or less per month for 94 percent cost coverage, they want people to buy plans that are as low as 60 percent cost coverage. That means a worker injured in a car accident or incapacitated with cancer could owe more money than they could ever repay. Health-related bankruptcies are already a terrible problem for all levels of income, and someone living on a modest income is even more vulnerable.
House Republicans already cut MinnesotaCare last year to make people pay more when they need medical attention, and now they want to scrap the program entirely and leave low-income workers to fend for themselves. That means more people will delay routine care and instead wait until it’s too late and they’re in the Emergency Room. That costs the system more in the long run.
We simply cannot afford to move backwards. MNA believes Minnesota should expand MinnesotaCare right now and then adopt a publicly-financed, privately-delivered healthcare system that would give all Minnesotans access to affordable care when they need it. Healthcare is not a luxury – it is a right. As a state, we can provide that right to all Minnesotans while spending less money overall.
Governor Dayton and Senate Democrats stand with nurses and want to study how we could save money while still offering universal coverage. We spent $40 billion in 2013 in Minnesota on healthcare, and the Department of Health says that number will be more than $80 billion per year by 2022. That’s doubling our costs in just five years if we do nothing.
MNA wants Minnesota to take control of our healthcare spending so we don’t go bankrupt individually or as a state. Write to your legislators today and ask them to fund the single-payer healthcare study because Minnesotans have a right to know where we could save money on healthcare!