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Compromise reached to provide health insurance premium relief in Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers are about to approve relief for 120,000 Minnesotans facing skyrocketing health insurance premiums. Both chambers of the state Legislature are likely to pass the relief bill Thursday, after a joint committee of lawm...

ST. PAUL - Minnesota lawmakers are about to approve relief for 120,000 Minnesotans facing skyrocketing health insurance premiums.

Both chambers of the state Legislature are likely to pass the relief bill Thursday, after a joint committee of lawmakers approved a compromise Wednesday afternoon.

Gov. Mark Dayton says he likely would sign it into law "as soon as I get my hands on the bill."

"Based on what I know, based on what I was told last night, it's a bill I'll sign," Dayton said Wednesday morning. "We've got to get the premium relief ... to people who need it."

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said she "cannot wait for that moment when Minnesotans can be certain they're getting relief."

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Once passed, the deal will provide 25 percent discounts to Minnesotans who buy their health insurance on the individual marketplace and earn too much money to qualify for existing federal subsidies. In addition it will help some Minnesotans undergoing treatment for serious conditions keep their doctors even if their network is changing.

The full measure will cost Minnesota taxpayers around $325 million, taken from the state's budget reserves.

It took months for Minnesota leaders to get this close to a deal, even though both parties agreed the state should provide the relief. But they disagreed about how that relief should be administered, and whether immediate should be bundled with long-term reform.

Thursday's likely passage of the bill doesn't mean Minnesotans will get immediate relief. It will take six to eight weeks of work for insurers to build computer systems to process the relief. Eventually it will show up as discounts on subscribers' insurance bills, likely on April or May bills. The measure requires plans to implement the relief by April 30.

The relief will be applied retroactively for the first few months of the year.

Insurers will be reimbursed by the state for the discounts they provide to eligible Minnesotans.

The compromise includes some elements Dayton wanted and others pushed by Republicans:

β€’ Republicans agreed to Dayton's plan to have health plans administer the aid as part of their normal invoices, instead of requiring the state to send out checks.

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β€’ Dayton agreed to Republican calls to include several 2018-focused reforms in the bill, including allowing for-profit insurers into the individual market and letting farmers join together in co-ops to purchase insurance as groups.

Industry representatives and DFL lawmakers did object to some details of how health market reforms were structured. But Republican lawmakers forged forward instead of delaying the measure further or striking certain provisions from the bill.

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