Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Plenty of news from the Capitol this week, including a “mini-session” that was held in southeastern Minnesota.
HEALTH INSURANCE RATES STABLE THANKS TO REPUBLICAN REFORMS
On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Commerce released final rates for the 2020 individual insurance market. For the third consecutive year, Republican-led reforms have helped reduce or hold flat individual market health insurance rates after years of double-digit increases following the implementation of Obamacare in Minnesota.
All five of the carriers on the individual market are lowering premiums or effectively holding premiums flat for 2020, with average rates ranging between a .18% increase and a 20 percent decrease. There will also be 39 more health plan options in 2020, and every county will have at least two offerings in the individual market.
This is fantastic news for those who purchase their health insurance on the individual market. From 2014-2017, average rates increased by double digits every year, including up to 67 percent for 2017. Thanks to Republican reforms enacted in 2017, individual market rates for 2018 and 2019 remained flat or were reduced for most Minnesotans.
Even with this rate stabilization, residents in southeastern Minnesota still pay some of the highest costs for individual insurance across the entire state. I am currently working on proposals to be introduced when session starts in February to provide some relief and address this disparity in costs for our region.
MILLIONS OF STATE DOLLARS SENT TO DEAD PEOPLE
More startling news from the Department of Human Services this week, as the agency announced that roughly $3.7 million in improper payments were made to managed care organizations for deceased enrollees between 2014-2016. The issue was caught by a multi-state federal audit. According to DHS, the issue was caught and fixed prior to the audit taking place, so it's important to note that these payments are not currently ongoing for this program.
However, it continues a long list of problems that have happened or are happening within the department. This latest news underscores the urgency for a full forensic audit of all DHS spending that I’ve called for this summer, and yet another reason the House health and human services finance committee should be having hearings and examining DHS more closely. Clearly we need to examine how
how DHS screens its programs to ensure payments aren't being made for deceased individuals.
“MINI SESSION” TAKES PLACE IN SOUTHEASTERN MINNESOTA
Over a full three days this week, the MN House held a "mini-session" across southeastern Minnesota with tours and committee hearings that stretched from Austin to Rochester to Winona.
As part of the health and human services finance committee, I spent a day in Rochester and visited the University of Minnesota campus and the Mayo Clinic. The highlights were learning about Mayo's Center for Regenerative Medicine and advanced biomanufacturing facility and our committee hearing on prescription drug prices.
I was intrigued by the presentation about a new non-profit pharmacy supply company called Civica Rx, of which Mayo is a partner.
I then spent a day in Winona. The jobs & economic development committee heard presentations about a high school program called REACH which gives students manufacturing experience and college credit.
REACH is similar to our local LEARN and EARN program; both were made possible out of the Youth Skills Training grants law that I co-authored.
We also toured RTP Company; they are a global manufacturer of custom engineered thermoplastic compounds used in injection molding.
I always enjoy touring manufacturing companies across our region and hearing directly from them about issues that impact their growth. RTP had similar concerns from our area's employers: workforce shortage, government regulations that impact their productivity and competitiveness, and the difficulties in dealing with marijuana and other drug use.
We spent the afternoon in committee hearings on the childcare crisis (lack of access, low wages for workers and high cost for parents) and the housing crisis. These two issues are at crisis points across our state and are particularly dire in rural Minnesota. And there are no silver bullet solutions for either supply shortages nor high costs for childcare and housing.
Although these tours were interesting and the committee hearing topics relevant, I am extremely disappointed that NOTHING was discussed regarding the "elephants in the room." We've had a long summer of reports on the waste, fraud, and abuse and failed leadership within the Department of Health and Human Services - yet, the House DFL majority has refused to hold a hearing to give Minnesotans answers.
We have well documented audits on the fraud and waste within the CCAP - Child Care Assistance Program - and yet nothing is being done to address it. I sat through two hours of excellent presentations on the child care shortages and the demand for daycare subsidies to help families - all without one mention of the millions of dollars that are flowing out of the back door due to fraud. And finally, we received a presentation about housing, yet had no discussion about the issue of outrageous (and illegal) building permit fees that some municipalities are charging residents.
I again call on the House majority to hold hearings on these critical issues and ask the responsible government agencies to present their plans to address them. We must be prudent with our state budget, responsible to our taxpayers, and hold government accountable.
RED WING IGNITE RECEIVES DEED GRANT
I received some good local news this week, learning that Red Wing Ignite was one of the 13 nonprofit groups that received funding from the Department of Employment and Economic Development through the Business Development Competitive Grant Program.
Red Wing Ignite will receive $105,000 to provide support, training, and networking opportunities for innovative start-ups and businesses in the Red Wing area.
STAYING IN TOUCH
As always, if you have questions or concerns regarding any issue, please contact me. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-296-8635.