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MinnesotaCare buy-in is true to our values

Minnesota State Capitol (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

When I ran for the Minnesota House of Representatives, I committed myself to a simple pledge. Spend my time as a legislator working to ensure everyone can feel safe, be heard and live in joy. And ever since being sworn in last month, I've been working to do just that.

But when I listened to Duluthians at my town hall over the weekend talk about struggling to pay for health insurance, I realized that in order to honor that pledge I needed to push even harder for one specific policy: the MinnesotaCare Buy-In.

If you're unfamiliar with the program, MinnesotaCare is a tried-and-true health insurance plan that has delivered access to thousands of Minnesotans since the legislature voted on a bipartisan basis to create the program back in 1992. You may have used MinnesotaCare yourself, and you likely have friends, family or neighbors who have done the same. It's become a Minnesota staple and a reflection of our value of taking care of each other.

When the program was created, though, we limited enrollment to certain low-income Minnesotans, those who made less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line. That may have made sense at the time. But since then, we've seen what a positive difference the plan can make in people's lives. So we're proposing something bold: Let's allow anyone to purchase MinnesotaCare.

Giving middle-class Minnesotans the option to purchase MinnesotaCare would be a real game-changer for thousands of families currently struggling to pay for increasingly expensive health insurance premiums. Had Minnesotans had the option to purchase MinnesotaCare this year, for example, the average family would have saved $69 per month. That's real money that adds up.

To be clear, MinnesotaCare would not be free. You would need to pay premiums as if you had commercial insurance. But MinnesotaCare's low overhead (3 percent) and long history of delivering high-quality coverage means your premium dollars aren't being wasted lining the pockets of corporate executives. Your money is going straight to care.

Opening up MinnesotaCare to anyone would be a good idea at any point, but it is particularly important now for two reasons:

First, private health insurance companies are beginning to pull out of the individual market, creating instability and driving up costs. In dozens of Minnesota counties, patients have only a single health insurance option from which to choose. That lack of competition drives up costs for hard-working Minnesotans, especially those in rural areas.

Second, the future of the Affordable Care Act is in doubt. President Trump and Congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal President Obama's signature healthcare law, leaving many young and low-income Minnesotans afraid they may lose coverage at the drop of a hat. We need to act swiftly to ensure that Minnesotans will have an affordable and reliable option no matter what happens in Washington.

I was happy to see the state legislature pass short-term premium relief in January. But we cannot stop there. We can and must move forward with bold reforms that will permanently drive down the costs of health insurance for middle-class Minnesotans.

Cynicism often tempts us to believe that politics only breeds discord and division. But good public policy is genuinely about putting aside partisan divides and working to improve people's lives. And when that happens, the toxicity of today's public discourse fades away, and suddenly I remember why I love doing this work.

Opening up MinnesotaCare to everyone just makes sense. In our capacity as state legislators, we have a real chance to make sure everyone in our state can live with dignity and joy. And if we can do that for thousands of Minnesotans with MinnesotaCare, I'll consider that a job well done.

Liz Olson

Liz Olson represents District 7B in the Minnesota House.