Legislative Update: Health insurance re-emerges as significant issue

MN Capitol

During the first few weeks of this year’s Legislative session, Republicans and Democrats worked quickly to pass a bipartisan bill to provide $326 million in premium relief to people who obtain their health insurance through the individual market exchange. When passing the bill, legislators and Gov. Dayton acknowledged that a more permanent solution was needed to avoid skyrocketing insurance premiums for 2018 and to ensure that insurance companies wouldn’t abandon the individual market. During March, discussions and debate regarding insurance options became more partisan.

In February, after signing the premium relief bill into law, the Governor began to talk about the potential for expanding eligibility for the MinnesotaCare program, which is currently available only to those who earn a maximum of 200 percent of the poverty level. The Governor proposed opening MinnesotaCare to anyone who needs to purchase health insurance through the individual market, using the MnSURE exchange.

Instead of approving the expansion of MinnesotaCare, Republicans are moving a bill called the Minnesota Premium Security Plan (MPSP), which would be managed by the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA). The Republican’s plan would provide reinsurance for health insurance carriers by transferring some of the risk and expense to the state from their higher cost members. By transferring that risk to the state, insurance costs and, presumably, premiums will go down – or at least not rise as sharply as they have in the past two years. Senate Republicans earmarked $600 million for the plan. Should the Republican plan pass both houses, it must still be signed into law by the Governor to become effective.

As the health insurance issue continues to unfold, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association continues to advocate for 1) Stability in the marketplace; 2) Cost reductions for health insurance premiums; and 3) Preserve access to more doctors and health providers.

On Thursday, March 16, Minnesota State Senate Republicans proposed approximately $900 million in tax relief for the next budget. Current budget projections estimate the state will have a budget surplus of $1.65 billion before any tax cuts or new spending. The Senate GOP plan would make the first permanent reductions in taxes since 1999 and Senate Republicans say the most significant portion of the tax cuts would benefit those who pay taxes at the lowest of the state’s brackets.

In addition to a reduction in the state’s lowest rate, the plan includes cuts in taxes on Social Security benefits and the statewide business and industrial property tax.  For farmers, the Senate Republican’s plan includes a tax credit on school bond taxes and a reduction in estate taxes.

House Republicans will announce their tax plan in the coming days. Previously submitted to the Legislature, Governor Dayton’s budget request calls for approximately $250 million in targeted tax cuts as well, including a tax credit on school bond taxes. After House Republicans release their budget plans, leaders from the Senate and House will need to align their proposals into a proposed budget bill, then begin negotiations with the Dayton administration.

Buffer near Montevideo, MN

Buffer near Montevideo, MN

Governor Dayton held a news conference on Thursday to reinforce his support for the buffer law that he proposed and was passed by the Legislature in 2015. The Governor considers the law instrumental to improving the state’s overall water quality. During the news conference, Dayton was asked whether he would negotiate with Republicans who want to alter the law. “No” was his reply.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association issued a statement in response to the Governor’s news conference, noting “Minnesota corn farmers across the state are on track toward implementing a variety of innovative measures to help protect water quality throughout farm country in Greater Minnesota.” The statement pointed out the need to correct defective provisions in the law.

“Minnesota corn farmers are taking the lead in advancing creative approaches that support the water quality objectives we all want to achieve,” said MCGA President Harold Wolle in the statement. “Both the Governor and several legislators have acknowledged that the development of alternative practices and better approaches has been more complicated than what was assumed when the law was passed in 2015. We urge the Governor and legislators to work together to clarify and fix the problem provisions in the current buffer law and allow for enough time to effectively implement it.”

Pesticide Regulation
Last week we talked about the agriculture omnibus policy bills that passed both the House and Senate, and are now in a conference committee. Language placed in one of the original bills (HF1717) would have enabled the Department of Agriculture to begin regulating treated seeds as directed by Gov. Dayton’s executive order. The language was removed before passage. Leaders of the Pesticide Action Network told MPR this week that it was a lost opportunity for pollinators.

Shrimp feed could be a new value-added market for corn.

Shrimp Ranching
A relatively new issue appearing in the Legislature may seem somewhat unusual at first but to others it makes perfect sense. Developers are reportedly planning to construct a 9-acre facility near Marshall to raise more than 150 million shrimp each year (or 7 million pounds) to sell into domestic markets. Bills recently introduced by Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) and Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) would provide up to $5 million in annual payments to shrimp producers in Minnesota.

Shrimp farm developers report that approximately 11 million pounds of shrimp are produced annually in the U.S. but that the nation’s demand is approximately 1.6 billion pounds per year, meaning that a significant market opportunity awaits anyone with a good plan. The developer – Tru Shrimp – said locating a shrimp farm Minnesota makes sense because, “This is where the (corn and soybean) feed is.” The Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council is currently funding a research project into the development of corn-based shrimp food.




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