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Public option amendment joins energy, agriculture and commerce bill

It’s been an interesting week for HF4975.

Sponsored by Rep. Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka), the bill was created last week in the House Ways and Means Committee, when the supplemental budget bills for climate and energy, agriculture and commerce were combined.

But a funny thing happened on its way to the House Floor, where it was originally scheduled to be acted upon Wednesday. There was an unusual amount of attention being paid to a particular amendment sponsored by House Majority Leader Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls), which attracted 18 proposed amendments to that amendment.

The subject is spending money "to develop and submit to the federal government" a waiver request to expand the MinnesotaCare health insurance program into a more wide-ranging “public option.”

In exchanges on the floor late Thursday evening between Long and Rep. Tim O'Driscoll (R-Sartell), it became clear that Republicans were requesting that the bill be returned to ways and means in order for Long’s amendment to be addressed in the committee that oversees appropriations, rather than on the House Floor.

And so HF4975 made its way back to that committee Friday morning, where the amendment was approved after some discussion and the bill was sent back to the House Floor.

“Last year, we started the process with an actuarial analysis of what it would look like to set up the option for more people to buy into MinnesotaCare,” Long said of the health care program for Minnesotans with low incomes. “But we are not in a position this year to set up new funding mechanisms, given that this is not a budget year. And so we are not going to be moving forward this year with implementing the program or setting up any funding.

“But one of the critical steps that we would need to take in order to set up the MinnesotaCare public option is to apply for a federal 1332 waiver to authorize us to do the MinnesotaCare buy-in approach. And so that’s what this amendment would do.”

Section 1332 waivers enable states to experiment with alternative approaches to health care coverage.

Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) asked Long about the projected costs of a public option.

“If it were set up for 2027, the cost for those 100,000 folks [estimated to be eligible for the program] would be $208 million,” Long replied. “To put that in context, our reinsurance costs are currently $178 million. … One of the benefits of getting the federal waiver is that we wouldn’t be just making assumptions about what the federal contribution would be. We’d have an approved waiver from the federal government that would tell us that.”

Long said the amendment is solely focused on requesting a waiver, not potential future costs. 


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