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Dayton urges legislators to agree on health care fix

ST. PAUL — Noting that his comments suggesting the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable for many have been turned against fellow Democrats on the ballot, Gov. Mark Dayton urged Minnesota's legislative leaders Friday to compose a plan to counter rapidly rising premiums before open enrollment begins next month — and before Election Day.

It's an about-face for Dayton, who just last week said he wouldn't entertain a special session until after Nov. 8 to combat health insurance rate increases for 2017 that range from 50 percent to 67 percent. But he said the stakes for Minnesota residents who buy coverage through the state's health insurance exchange or directly from insurers, but who make too much to get federal subsidies, are too high. Dayton wants to give them a signal in the next two weeks that help is on the way.

"It is now time to walk the talk and agree upon a solution to provide much-needed relief," he said.

Asked if he's concerned that the political fallout could land squarely on Democrats as they seek to maintain control of the Senate, regain control of the House and increase their footing in Minnesota's eight congressional districts, Dayton responded: "We'll see."

The Democratic governor turned heads last week with his critique the federal health care overhaul's performance, emboldening Republicans who say the law is a disaster that should be scrapped, while causing Democrats to cringe. The comments were circulated nationally. They were pulled for a GOP attack ad in a competitive congressional race in St. Paul's southern suburbs and made an appearance on Donald Trump's Twitter feed.


Dayton said he stands by his comments, but added that he regrets they're being wrongly used against Democrats. He joins House Republicans and Senate Democrats in calling for a special session, though he said he doesn't believe any financial aid would need to be approved before Election Day. The rate hikes take effect Jan. 1.

"Here we are less than three weeks from the election and that white hot political atmosphere, it's going to be a big stretch for legislators to set aside the politics and focus on what we can do to relieve this burden on Minnesotans," he said.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he's committed to working out a fix while blaming Democrats for the problem.

"The governor was correct last week when he admitted Obamacare is not affordable," Daudt said in a statement. "It is my hope we can find areas of agreement and provide needed relief to Minnesotans suffering from the effects of Obamacare."

There's little indication the two sides can quickly agree on a solution. Republicans have proposed a series of potential changes, including financial assistance and abolishing MNsure, and moving to the federal exchange. Legislative Democrats, meanwhile, have proposed a tax credit to buy down premium costs for those who don't get federal subsidies and allowing all residents to use the state's public programs.

Dayton himself suggested Friday that the state redirect $313 million of a budget surplus destined for the state's rainy day fund for premium relief, calling the situation an emergency.

"Right now it is pouring on some Minnesotans," he said.

Whether it's in a special session or in 2017, lawmakers also have long-term problems to consider. The state's top health insurance regulator has warned that the individual market is in a crisis after every company offering coverage threatened to exit.

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