Reinsurance extension passes Senate
Minnesota’s reinsurance plan – the Minnesota Premium Security Plan – originally passed in 2017 when the individual marketplace was new. It provided state money to insurance companies to subsidize high-cost enrollees to incentivize those companies to lower their advertised premiums. The program was supported with $542 million in taxpayer dollars. It encourages – but does not require – insurance companies offering plans on the individual market to hold down their rates.

The MPSP was originally a two-year program, meant to be a bridge between the ACA implementation and a sustainable individual marketplace. The Legislature extended it for two years in 2019 and in February, the Senate passed a bill to extend the program one additional year.

Reinsurance has more or less achieved its goal, holding down annual average health insurance rates about 20% from where they would have been without the program. However, the lower rates have come at more than $542 million in taxpayer expense and about $100 million per-year reduction in federal funds that support MinnesotaCare. In addition, reinsurance subsidizes high health care costs, which some argue discourages insurance companies from doing anything to improve the cost of care or health outcomes in general.

The federal waiver required to run the program expires next year so even if this bill passes this session, the Legislature will soon be required to find a more permanent solution to lower premiums. The Senate Commerce Committee’s budget proposal does direct the commissioner to apply for an extension for 2023 and beyond. When the bill was heard on the Senate Floor in February, DFLers argued that taxpayer dollars would be better spent exploring long-term solutions that address not just insurance premiums, but health care costs and health outcomes. (SF 694)

Catalytic converter theft bills await hearing

Two bills under the Commerce Committee’s purview would address the dramatic rise in catalytic converter thefts occurring across the state, but neither have received a hearing (SF 890, SF 206). Senate File 890 provides criminal penalties for those who possess a catalytic converter not attached toa vehicle and prohibits scrap metal dealers from purchasing the converters from anyone not authorized under the law. Its House companion has received a hearing, but the Senate Commerce Committee has not heard the bill.

Anti-price-gouging bill awaits hearing

Minnesota is one of 14 states that do not have some type of anti-price gouging law on its books. One of the first Executive Orders Gov. Walz imposed after the pandemic began prohibits anyone from selling consumer goods or services for an amount that represents an unconscionably excessive price during the pandemic (Executive Order 20-10). It came after early reports of items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer being sold for exorbitant prices. Once implemented, the Attorney General’s office received more than 700 complaints in the first three weeks and 2,200 by November 2020.

Once the emergency expires, this temporary executive order also will be nullified. The Minnesota House has already passed the bill that would permanently etch these restrictions into Minnesota law, but Senate Republicans thus far have refused to even grant a hearing on the matter. Enacting this law also was included in Gov. Walz’s letter to the Legislature outlining steps toward ending the peacetime emergency but, still, Republicans will not hear the bill. (HF 844)

Liquor law bills remain unheard The Senate Commerce Committee has not considered any liquor-related bills this session, despite aggressive grassroots campaign from Minnesotans asking to make their case before the Legislature. One bill generating attention is dubbed the #DrinkLocalMN Bill (SF 1021). It would allow cideries and brewpubs to self-distribute, would permanently permit bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go, and would allow liquor stores to fill growlers. Another high-profile proposal would remove the 20,000-barrel threshold at which craft brewers can no longer sell growlers (SF 874). Both the Senate and House Commerce chairs so far have indicated they will not hear the bills this session