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Viewpoint: Health care aid law the first step

Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove

In visiting with many residents throughout the district last summer, the most consistent complaint I heard centered on rising health care costs. People were outraged at having to spend thousands — and in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars — each year on what they viewed as unsatisfactory health insurance, and they expected the Legislature to act.

Roughly three weeks into this year's session, lawmakers took action by approving a health care emergency aid and access bill.

Under this proposal, we are establishing an assistance program to offset the cost of premiums for qualifying enrollees who purchase health care coverage in the individual market. Those eligible would qualify for premium assistance equaling 25 percent of their premium this year.

The plan also would bring some access, competition and transparency to the system in numerous ways, such as allowing for-profit HMOs to enter the marketplace, and instituting agricultural cooperative health plans, which allow organizations with member owners — such as farm cooperatives — to provide health insurance to their members.

But the most important provision may be the extension of the 120-day continuity of care for critical cases. Enrollees who lost their previous insurance and are receiving treatment with an out-of-network provider on a new health plan would be entitled to continuation. Conditions for the extension would include a life-threatening mental or physical illness; a pregnancy beyond the first trimester; a physical or mental disability defined as an inability to engage in one or more major life activities for more than a year; and a disabling or chronic condition that is in an acute phase.

I was pleased to co-author this plan, and I believe it's important to remind people that this is not the overall health insurance solution, but a first of many steps towards turning things around. The Legislature must be focused on unraveling this health care mess this session and providing needed premium relief, preserving care for patients with serious conditions, and increasing options for those shopping for health insurance is a good place to start.

In other news, I am chief-authoring a bill that would provide an extension for a tax increment financing district in Cottage Grove. Currently there is money sitting in a fund that could be used by the City for infrastructure near the former Home Depot building. Without an extension, that funding will disappear. Having previously served on the Cottage Grove Economic Development Authority, I know how important this revenue is, and I look forward to carrying this bill for Cottage Grove in the Minnesota House.

As always, I am interested in your feedback. Please feel free to contact me by e-mail at rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn or contact my office at 651-296-3135.

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