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House and Senate candidates take aim at MN's health care crisis

Keith Nardinger, an insurance agent with Farm Bureau Financial Services in Red Wing, expects about 50 of his clients — mostly farmers — to lose coverage with Blue Cross Blue Shield as the company prepares to withdraw from Minnesota save for its costly Blue Plus Health Maintenance Organization plan.

The few companies remaining in the state will cap the number of individual policies they sell and hike up rates — a move Nardinger said will leave thousands of Minnesotans without health insurance coverage.

"This is a trainwreck," he said. "I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it's going to get better. It's scary."

Nardinger was among a crowd gathered at the Red Wing American Legion Thursday for an emergency town-hall meeting Minnesota's Republican Party organized to address soaring insurance rates and a suffering individual market.

District 21B Rep. Steve Drazkowski and Rep. Matt Dean led the discussion.

Although Dean represents District 38B, which covers Washington County, the chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance committee and member of the Health and Human Services Reform Committee, encouraged questions, comments and ideas from District 21 voters.

Dean said the health care plan slated for 2017 poses "unacceptable" costs and limitations to choice and access in health care. The best solution, he said, is to "kill it and bury it."

"When we talk about Obama Care and MNsure in the state of Minnesota, it's politically charged," Dean said. "You can't get away from that because it was created, delivered and paid for as a political object. But if you live at home and this is your life, your health and your kids' health, it's not political, it's real life."

Tax credits

Last week, chairs of the Senate health policy and finance committees called on Gov. Mark Dayton to approve a premium tax credit bill Sen. Matt Schmit, D- Red Wing, introduced in the 2016 legislative session. The bill aims to relieve Minnesotans of the high-priced monthly premiums in the individual market through supplemental tax credits.

"Last session I authored the tax credit bill to provide relief to Minnesotans lacking affordable choices in the individual health insurance market — including many farmers, small businesses, and families in southeastern Minnesota," Schmit said. "The bill targets relief to those who need it most by offering a tax credit to hardworking families and individuals facing unreasonably high health insurance premiums who may not qualify for similar federal tax credits."

Schmit pointed to other bills he's authored to address health care challenges in Minnesota, including the pursuit of a federal waiver to redraw the federally-place boundaries of coverage areas. The bill would aim to combine the Minnesota's metro and southeast region — the state's most and least competitive markets.

Schmit has sought to establish a public option to buy into state health plans offered to state employees and to stabilize individual health insurance market premium fluctuations.

All three bills reached the Senate floor but were rejected by the House during the conference committee process, he said.

Thursday's meeting was one of three state GOP leaders held simultaneously. The others were in Owatonna and Bemidji, Minn.