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Echo Press Editorial: Feds delay in health care hurts consumers

Minnesota legislators thought they had crafted a reasonable bipartisan solution to skyrocketing health insurance premiums earlier this year, but the Trump administration seems to have different ideas.

The Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton allocated about $271 million to help lower premium increases for those buying on the individual market by helping offset high medical costs for consumers with catastrophic medical bills. The public underwriting of huge medical bills in that market is estimated to lower premiums by about 20 percent.

That bipartisan plan has significant impact in rural Minnesota as many farmers and main street businesses relying on the individual market for insurance.

But the deal was contingent on approval from the federal government because part of the funding will come from funds related to the state's participation in the Affordable Care Act.

Minnesota submitted its waiver request at the end of June and the federal government has still not made a decision. Officials at the U.S. Department of Health say they have until December to make a decision. But by that time, Minnesota insurers will already be one month into the open enrollment period when consumers are buying health insurance.

Minnesota insurers have said premiums will likely increase significantly again if the federal waiver is not granted, and not granted soon.

Minnesota health insurance companies say they need time now to put in place the lower premiums and ready their logistics and technology for delivering those premium and insurance choices. MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole testified before Congress last week that Minnesota needs an answer to its waiver in days. Waiting weeks will delay implementation of the low cost plan and likely saddle consumers with skyrocketing premiums once again.

Human Services Secretary Tom Price and his Republican colleagues have been long calling for giving more flexibility to the states under the Affordable Care Act as part of major reforms. So it's puzzling to see the department delay implementation of a bipartisan state solution that could be a model for the rest of the country.

Democrats have suggested Price and the GOP Congress want to show Obamacare doesn't work and so are hesitant to approve a plan that shows it can work. We hope those are not the motivations of Price and his colleagues. But it's clear that Minnesota has a plan that works and, more importantly, is supported by both parties.

Minnesota's Republican leaders should urge their colleagues in the House, Senate and White House that they need to act quickly to approve a solid plan to help keep premiums under control.

This editorial was published in the Mankato Free Press on Sept. 15 and was written by that newspaper's editorial board.