Minnesota Republican health plan: Lower costs, but really bad insurance

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, isn't a big Obamacare fan.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, isn't a big Obamacare fan. Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) has never been a fan of health care for the masses. Or at least not Obamacare. Drazkowski has long promised a better way.

“We need to stop the march toward government takeover and turn directly to supporting individual health care, freedom, and choice,” he wrote in the Rochester Post Bulletin in 2014. “Start by allowing insurance companies… to compete for business. More competition will increase health-care quality and decrease your health insurance expenses.”

But it’s one thing to sit on the sidelines and talk about how you could do better. It’s entirely another thing to actually come up with your own plan. Now we know what Drazkowski’s definition of better health care really is.

It means the possibility of no coverage for cancer, prenatal care, mental health, and 65 other issues for the more than 100,000 Minnesotans who buy insurance on their own.

These are among the details of the Minnesota House Republicans’ bill to address the state’s health insurance crisis.

Last fall, Minnesotans who bought insurance without the help of an employer, and who earn too much for federal health care tax credits, were notified their premiums would rise an estimated 36 to 67 percent.

The unwanted news was a call to action. During the new legislative session, GOP and DFL lawmakers have been hammering out different strategies that would provide some financial relief. The Democrats’ plan proposes it as a refund they could apply for.

It’s the House GOP plan that’s raising eyebrows. Specifically, Drazkowski’s amendment to it. It says insurers must offer at least one plan that covers the nearly 70 medical and mental health issues mandated by state and federal law. These range from Lyme disease to addiction services, OB-GYN access to in-patient care for childbirth. But after that, they can go wild, dropping all or some of those mandated by law.

Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Minneapolis) calls it “pick six” insurance — buy a cheaper policy by picking the six maladies you want covered just in case. Then roll the dice and hope you don’t need health care for the other 60 or so not covered.

On Thursday, as Drazkowski’s amendment hit the House floor, Loeffler tweeted a partial list of the conditions that would become optional for insurers to cover.


“If this were to become law,” she says, “I think we’ll see a lot more fundraisers for medical bills.”
Drazkowski appears to be mighty proud of his work.

“This is a great first step in reducing the very regulations that contribute to our soaring health care premiums,” he wrote in a press release last week. “Very simply, it gives people choices that could result in lower health care costs. If someone wants to buy a plan that doesn’t include certain benefits and they choose to pay the penalty, this gives Minnesotans that freedom to be covered while lowering their costs.”

Rep. Loeffler is quick to point out the rub in Drazkowski's logic. His idea of health insurance reform and relief would just affect the 100,000-plus Minnesotans buying their own coverage. It would impact millions of people here. It would apply to all state-authorized health plans. 

Say, for instance, your employer offers health insurance plans through HealthPartners. Maybe there's two from which to choose. If your employer picked cheaper plans to offer that don't include OBGYN access or cancer treatment, that's your lot. If you're diagnosed with cancer, you're screwed because your coverage doesn't include treatment for the disease.   

The House bill has been sent to a joint conference committee. Lawmakers hope to hammer out a compromise before sending a final draft of the bill to Governor Dayton.

The clock is ticking. A bill must be signed no later than January 31. That’s the last day Minnesotans can buy health insurance on the open market.