Column: Health insurance costs to turn a corner

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In this column I want to share an update on health insurance rates, tax benefits for the start of the school year, and a new program to promote high school apprenticeships.

Health insurance

One of the major concerns for residents in our region has been the rising cost of health insurance. I've written before about our legislative efforts to address this crisis and I want to update you on the initial impact we are seeing.

Since 2014, premium rates in Minnesota have been increasing by double digits annually (almost 60 percent in 2017). If the Legislature would not have taken any action this session, rates could have risen by an additional 25 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

I'm pleased to tell you that we've taken a step in the right direction toward making the individual health insurance market more cost friendly and competitive in southeastern Minnesota. At the end of July, the Minnesota Department of Commerce released preliminary rates for the 2018 individual health insurance market, revealing some improved news for Minnesota ratepayers. The Minnesota Premium Security Plan, which was passed this session, will result in premium rate decreases for tens of thousands of Minnesotans who purchase their health insurance from the individual market.

For example: UCare customers could see a rate decrease of 14.5 percent, Preferred One customers could see a rate decrease of 36.8 percent to 40.8 percent, and Blue Plus customers could see a rate decrease of 1.5 percent or possibly a lower increase of 11.4 percent.

Final rates for the 2018 individual market are expected to be released later this fall.

Since the implementation of Obamacare, many Minnesotans have experienced substantial annual premium rate increases. Even with these initial reductions, I know we still have more work to do next session to continue to reverse that trend.

School tax benefits

If you are like me, when August hits, you ask yourself: "Where did summer go?" And then you start to plan for back to school. Minnesota parents have much to smile about this school year with back-to-school tax benefits. Minnesota has both a credit and a subtraction for education expenses; items that qualify are as follows: writing utensils, textbooks, musical instrument rentals, and other school supplies. While the education subtraction is not subject to income limits, the credit is limited to households with incomes less than $37,500 with one to two children, $39,500 with three children, and adding $2,000 per child for households with four or more children.

According to the Department of Revenue, nearly 200,000 families took advantage of the education subtraction with more than 43,000 families taking advantage of the education credit, saving an average of $242. For full details about the Education Subtraction and Credit and to find out what school supplies qualify, check out the Department of Revenue's website:

www.revenue.state.mn.us.

class='subhead'>Youth apprenticeships

On Tuesday, Aug, 15, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry will host a meeting to introduce the Youth Apprenticeship Program. This meeting is focused on learning more about a new law that I co-authored this session aimed at having schools, nonprofits and manufacturers working together to get students working, learning and receiving credit for on-the-job training—all while in high school. I encourage employers, educators, and other stakeholders to attend this meeting.

We want to offer students an opportunity to prepare for a career after high school while still in school, whether it's furthering their education with a post-secondary degree or heading directly into the workforce, in order to help them become more secure in a field with as little debt as possible.

Final reminder

The grand re-opening of our state Capitol is happening this weekend and there are many family-friendly events scheduled. This event is a celebration of the Capitol's extensive, four-year restoration. If you would like to schedule a tour, either contact me or visit: www.mnhs.org/capitol/activities/tours. I'm sure your whole family will appreciate the history and feel proud of our state Capitol building!

As always, if you ever have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact me at rep.barb.haley@house.mn or 651-296-8635. I appreciate your calls and emails as they help me be a better representative.