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Viewpoint: Premium Relief Came at a Cost to Minnesotans

The first bill passed during the last Minnesota legislative session was designed to deliver health insurance premium relief to Minnesotans struggling to pay for their coverage. While I certainly shared the goal of delivering relief to consumers facing soaring premiums, I was strongly opposed to one provision that would significantly change how HMOs operate in Minnesota, permitting them to become for-profit after decades as nonprofits. It was for this reason that I voted against the bill. My colleagues and I feared this would eventually allow insurance companies to use Minnesotans' premium dollars to support their businesses, rather than lower consumer costs. And that's exactly what is happening now.

You may have seen the recent news that Medica transferred $90 million from one of its nonprofit arms. Prior to this year's legislative changes, this practice had not been allowed in our state for more than 40 years. It was a consumer protection to encourage health care companies to benefit patients and their pocketbooks — not shareholders and stock prices.

In addition to the $90 million that Medica transferred in January 2017, the company transferred $30 million to the nonprofit Medica Health Plans of Wisconsin. Not only does this new legislative loophole allow corporations to profit from taxpayer money, it means assets provided by Minnesota premium-payers are being used to subsidize other states.

Minnesota's insurance providers are sitting on billions of dollars provided by Minnesotans, through their premiums and taxes. Previous protections in Minnesota law offered some guarantee that this revenue would be reinvested in the Minnesota's marketplace to keep costs down for Minnesotans — and certainly not sent to Wisconsin. I am deeply troubled that our consumer-focused approach has been jeopardized because of the changes pushed by Republicans earlier this year.

My colleagues and I fought to keep for-profit interests out of Minnesota's health care marketplace to protect Minnesota consumers. With this news, it is clear we need to revisit this topic next session. Corporations should not be making excessive profits from taking care of people, and we need to ensure Minnesotans' hard-earned money stays here, not shoring up balance sheets in other states.

Health care reform is an ever-changing issue these days, and federal instability is further weakening the security that consumers deserve. Minnesota has a history of working across party lines to develop responsible and innovative solutions. I will continue working to find reforms that help all Minnesotans afford their coverage and to reverse this irresponsible use of taxpayer money. I am committed to working toward strong, bipartisan health care legislation that benefits Minnesota taxpayers and their well-being. Not insurance companies and their interests in other states.

For more information about this issue, or for help on other legislative issues, please contact my office at 651-296-4166 or email me at sen.susan.kent@senate.mn.

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