Health care likely to provoke lively debate again this Session

With the legislative session just around the corner, the recommendations of a special task force on public health plans are likely to cause more political tussles this spring in St. Paul.

The task force of 29 health care experts was appointed by Gov. Dayton to look into the finances of MinnesotaCare, a low-cost health plan for working families. The Republican-controlled House voted last year to scrap the program, saying it duplicates MNcare and other programs that help provide health insurance. (Republicans are also calling for ending MNcare and shifting ACA exchange coverage to the healthcare.gov federal site.)

But in a development that isn't too surprising, the committee voted to expand MinnesotaCare and continue the 2% provider tax, which has funded such programs in the past but is scheduled to end in 2019.

Ending the provider tax is popular with many in the health care industry, but it has always seemed to me to be one of the more benign taxes out there. Few consumers, if any, notice it, and it has not caused Minnesota's overall health care costs to be unusually high. And it could be argued that states without Minnesota's relatively generous benefits and higher taxes actually have higher costs in the long run--for example the state of Wisconsin comes to mind. With Minnesota regularly being listed as among the healthiest states in the nation, could this be a case of "you get what you pay for?"

In any case, expect more sparks to fly this spring, as Republicans and Democrats at the state legislature revive their dramatically different views on what direction health care reform should take. I think it likely MinnesotaCare will survive, but MNsure, with its spotty performance record, is still on thin ice--it's not terribly popular with the public, and this is an election year. Speaking of thin, or in this case, thick, ice; the falls have officially frozen over...

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