More than 40 people made their way to the Redwood Falls Public Library this past Friday afternoon to learn more about what has been done and what is still on the docket as part of the 2017 state legislative session.
Those at the library heard from District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms and District 16B Rep. Paul Torkelson, who hosted a series of town hall meetings throughout the House District that day. One of the most discussed topics during the hour-long meeting was that of health insurance and the impact made by the bill approved during this year’s session.
According to Torkelson, the biggest impact of the session was the approval of a 25 percent rebate to those who qualify, which has a price tag in excess of $300 million.
While helpful, said Torkelson, it is still expensive, and the hope is that enough work can be done to make additional reforms to prevent this from happening again.
When asked, Dahms said, from his perspective, the 25 percent rebate is a one-year offering.
“We really can’t extend this, because if we can’t get this mess straightened out next year we could see this cost in the neighborhood of $430-450 million,” said Dahms.
Torkelson said those who are eligible won’t likely see the premium kick in until March or April, as it is going to take some time to process. However, he added, the bill is retroactive to Jan. 1. Dahms said if one receives a MNsure subsidy they do not qualify for the 25 percent rebate.
Other reforms in the legislation address what Dahms called “surprise billing,” which can happen when a patient sees a doctor that is not in the network approved by their insurance under their health care program. Dahms, who sat on the conference committee for the final health care bill, said the legislation also provides an opportunity for agriculture cooperatives to offer group coverage for its members similar to what an employer can provide for employees, and he said it sounds as if there are some cooperatives that have expressed interest in this.
The current health care program is flawed, said Dahms, and he hopes other issues can be addressed to fix them long-term.
“What we have right now is a stop-gap,” said Dahms, adding there are bigger picture issues that need to be worked out to improve that program for providers and patients.
In addition to health care, transportation was another topic for discussion. Torkelson, who is serving as chair of the House transportation committee said he plans to do whatever he can to not postpone the transportation bill again. Both Torkelson and Dahms said all of the options remain on the table, but both also said they are less likely to support an increase in the gas tax. They believe it is not a sustainable approach.
Torkelson said he would like to see more of the transportation related taxes that are collected in the state going into the transportation budget than in the general fund. Everything from auto related parts purchases to car lease and rental taxes that now go into the general fund could be placed in the transportation fund to help address the state funding needs.
“I don’t see a future in the gas tax,” said Torkelson, adding with the advent of electric cars and more fuel efficient vehicles it just does not look to be an effective way to raise revenue in the long-term.
One thing that has helped the transportation budget at the state level is the removal of the light rail funding discussion, as another source has been found to address those dollars, said Dahms.
Cutting the tax on social security, placing a limit on the amount of land the DNR can purchase and concerns about health department mandates on wells were all also raised during the Redwood Falls meeting.
Torkelson said the session start has been very dynamic, adding the move to a Republican majority in both the House and Senate has changed the way things are being done and what is up for discussion.
Dahms added the Senate has approved a bonding bill that is the same as that which was proposed during the 2016 session, but the fact is the bonding bill must be initiated in the House for it to proceed.
Torkelson, who served as chair of the capital investment committee in 2016, which sets the recommendations for the bonding bill, said he is not sure what will happen with the bonding bill on the House side at this point.
Dahms and Torkelson both also encouraged the public to stop up and see the improvements that have been made to the capitol building.
“The capitol remodeling turned out great,” said Torkelson, adding a grand opening for the newly updated building is going to be held in August.
The capitol now provides some public spaces for groups, added, Dahms, and so if a group wants to come up for the day they can utilize one of those spaces.
Both Dahms and Torkelson expressed their appreciation to those who attended the meeting, and both encouraged the public to contact them about any concerns they have