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Minnesota Democrats, Republicans Agree Obamacare is Unaffordable, Broken Mess

Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton delivers his State of the State address at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

Chelsea Clinton admitted to an audience in Sioux City, Iowa, on Oct. 5 that the problem with Obamacare was that it was too expensive.

“We know we do need to work on the affordable part of the Affordable Care Act,” Clinton said.

One week later, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat who has been one of the loudest proponents of the ACA, was even tougher on the legislation that President Obama sees as his legacy.

“Ultimately I’m not trying to pass the buck here, but the reality is the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable,” he said.

That was significant news in Minnesota, where WCCO-TV reported premiums for 250,000 state residents or 5 percent of the population insured under MNsure, the state’s health insurance marketplace, will go up by 50 percent or more for some health plans.

“The Affordable Care Act has many good features to it,” Dayton said. “But it’s got some serious blemishes right now and serious deficiencies.”

Larry Jacobs, a political analyst and professor at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said Dayton’s admission that the Legislature needed to “go back to the drawing board” was a major concession.

“The governor ate some crow today,” Jacobs said.

Dayton tried to walk back his admission a few days later.

“For the 95 percent of Minnesotans who are covered through the Medicaid expansion, MinnesotaCare or their employer, the law is working. It’s working for the 3 percent who qualify for the federal tax credits through MNsure,” Dayton said in a follow-up statement released by his office. “But the law isn’t working well for the 2 percent of Minnesotans in the individual market, who don’t receive any financial assistance to pay for their coverage.”

While he didn’t completely disavow his earlier comment, Dayton also said that he was sorry his statement was being used against Democratic candidates.

He said much of the criticism of Obamacare was “false and politically motivated.”

However, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R) wrote in an op-ed published by the Post-Bulletin that MNsure and federal healthcare mandates had made a “mess” of Minnesota’s health insurance system. He also stated it had “destroyed the ability to design an insurance market that met the needs of its people.”

But as for fixing the problem, Daudt argued it was all on Gov. Dayton. In other words, Dayton and the Democrats made this mess, and they needed to clean it up.

“IT contracts worth millions of dollars were signed without proper vetting, and partisans were put in charge of a massive buildout,” Daudt wrote. “Republican concerns were largely ignored – even silenced during legislative debate – when questions were raised about the improbability of vast promises made by Legislative Democrats.”

Whoever claims responsibility or is blamed, there is unanimity that something has to happen quickly.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is leaving the MNsure in 2017, the second major insurer to make that decision since 2013.

Dayton told reporters Oct. 21 that he was ready to call a special legislative session to look at spending $313 million to help 120,000 people who are not eligible for federal tax breaks to pay for health insurance.

That money is supposed to go into the state’s rainy day fund, but Dayton said, “Right now, it’s not just raining, it’s pouring on some Minnesotans.”

The timing of the special session wasn’t set in Dayton’s mind during that press conference. The session could be before or after the Nov. 8 election, Dayton said.

But Dayton did set a Nov. 1 deadline for some kind of a legislative plan to show people worried about paying for health insurance that help was on the way.

“House Republicans are committed to working quickly on ways to reduce costs and address the healthcare crisis Democrats created,” Daudt said in a statement following the Dayton press conference. “It is my hope we can find areas of agreement and provide needed relief to Minnesotans suffering from the effects of Obamacare.”

Monica Klama hopes they can figure out a way to do that, too. The Maplewood, Minn., woman and her husband are two of the 120,000 Minnesotans who are struggling to pay for health insurance because they have the misfortune of earning too much money to qualify for the federal Obamacare subsidy.

Klama told WCCO-TV that her family was paying 20 percent of their income for health insurance – about $1,000 a month. But Klama is afraid a 60 percent rate increase is on the way, which would push up the share of income being spent on insurance premiums to a whopping 60 percent, or nearly $1,700 a month.

“I don’t know if we’re being heard, to be honest with you,” Klama said. “We’re not able to sleep because this has been so stressful on us.”