Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. November 7, 2021.

Editorial: Act now for deals on 2022 health care

Individual-market consumers should take advantage of expanded aid on MNsure to discount monthly premiums.

A “godsend.” That’s how Chuck Moline describes the expanded financial assistance available to many who buy health insurance on their own instead of getting it through an employer, Medicare or other public programs.

Moline owns AdvisorNet Financial in Austin, Minn. The small business, located across the street from the SPAM Museum, is a MNsure broker enrollment center, meaning it provides free assistance to those buying health insurance on the state-run individual insurance marketplace. Right now, it’s crunch time. Enrollment opened Nov. 1 to buy coverage for 2022.

Moline’s advice: There are great deals available. If your income previously was too high to qualify for financial tax credits — aid that instantly discounts monthly premiums — you might now be eligible. If you have qualified previously, you might be able to upgrade to a plan offering fewer out-of-pocket costs or other improvements.

“We called clients who had previously fallen off that cliff, where they didn’t get a tax credit. Many are surprised to see it lowered their premiums exponentially,” he said.

Minnesotans could see serious savings, but action is needed. Just like retail sales, this is a limited time offer. Minnesotans have until Jan. 15 to shop for bargains on 2022 coverage on MNsure, though the deadline is Dec. 15 for coverage to kick in on Jan. 1.

About 163,000 Minnesotans, or 3%, buy coverage on their own. Open enrollment is the annual window to shop and buy coverage for the year ahead.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a game-changer for many who buy on the individual market. It provides tax credits to reduce monthly premiums, along with other aid that can help offset out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles or copays. But eligibility for the tax credits cut off — until this year — at 400% of federal poverty level, or $51,520 annually for an individual and $69,680 for a household of two.

That cutoff is the “cliff” Moline refers to, and it left too many without affordable coverage. It especially hit young retirees hard. Those under 65 are too young for Medicare, but still in need of affordable coverage. Many still earned too much to qualify for ACA subsidies.

Fortunately, the American Rescue Plan temporarily remedied that. The pandemic relief plan passed earlier this year enhanced ACA subsidies and expanded eligibility for them. Specifically, it removed the 400% federal poverty level cap on eligibility.

The changes remain in place for 2022 coverage but expire afterward unless Congress extends them. Lawmakers should not hesitate to do this.

Moline’s business serves southern Minnesota, which has historically had some of the state’s highest individual market premiums. He also works with many people in their early 60s. He gave an example of one couple who have benefited from the changes.

They earned around $65,000 a year, so they did not previously qualify for financial assistance for monthly insurance premiums. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan changes, they are now eligible for about $1,800 a month in aid. That reduces their monthly household health insurance premium cost to $374.

While the cost of individual market plans in Minnesota rose from 4% to 11% for 2022 coverage depending on the insurer, enhanced subsidies and expanded eligibility should cushion many family budgets. Other good news: Consumers have abundant choices, with at least 19 plans available in every Minnesota county.

Plan comparison help like that provided by Moline is available and free across Minnesota. Assistance and enrollment events can be found on the MNsure website at bit.ly/3EM7tdP. One important note: The financial aid is available only for plans sold through MNsure.

Consumers shouldn’t leave money on the table. Take advantage of the aid while it’s there. Said Moline: “This is a really big deal.”

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St. Cloud Times. November 5, 2021.

Editorial: We’re encouraged by sustainable farming practices, but the future of agriculture needs more

The population is growing and the climate is changing, and both of those things will have a big impact on the future of agriculture and food production.

Farmers — some of them right here in Central Minnesota — are working on solutions to ensure the land they farm now will be healthy and productive for generations to come.

Those efforts could also help mitigate the effects of climate change, all while providing new agricultural revenue streams.

We focused on these practices in a series published last week on natural climate solutions supported by the MIT Environmental Solutions Journalism Fellowship. Journalism fellow and St. Cloud Times reporter Nora Hertel visited 10 farms this summer and interviewed dozens of experts on climate change, forestry, agriculture and more.

We’re encouraged by the practices she found in place on Central Minnesota farms. Cover crops, reduced plowing and carbon sequestration are all becoming more common in fields near where we live.

It’s early days in the quest to build functional markets that will make efforts like carbon offsets pay on a large scale for Midwestern producers. (Not sure what that is? Essentially, carbon offsets allow companies to pay someone else to clean up after their greenhouse gases.)

Until the monetization models fully evolve, however, help will be needed to get more farms, big and small, on board. Since government subsidies and supports already shape agricultural production in America, some changes could help drive sustainable practices that pay off for farmers and those who want to do the right thing for the planet.

And whether you believe in climate change or not (spoiler: it’s real), why wouldn’t we clean up after ourselves, simply as a basic investment in our collective home?

Employing agriculture to combat climate change is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Depending on what you farm and where you farm, different practices will come into play. And right now there isn’t an exact answer for every scenario.

That’s why we all have a stake in protecting producers while they experiment to the answer.

The thing that encourages us is that there are people who are giving it a shot, trying to find solutions and exploring options. The solutions are not all viable right now, but unless tried and tested, there’s no way to tell which could become viable in the future. We all will benefit from those successes. We must not put the financial risk on farmers without a safety net.

Vegan or omnivore, blue or red, we all need to eat and we all need a planet with functioning ecosystems. We as consumers can support more sustainable farming practices, and farmers can work to implement them, but policy and regulation regarding carbon markets and assistance for farmers looking to implement sustainable agriculture practices are needed to ensure a healthy future.

Tell your elected leaders.

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Mankato Free Press. November 6, 2021.

Editorial: Support for schools solid

Thumbs up to taxpayers for the support they gave schools in the latest election.

School referenda to increase or sustain operating funds passed more districts than in the past, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association. Some 55 districts across the state asked voters to approve local property tax funding and three of every four were approved. That’s higher than the typical 51% pass rate.

That’s good news. Despite all the turmoil schools have endured over the pandemic including distance learning, re-opening, closing and mask and vaccine controversies, voters decided schools needed financial support.

While capital projects and bonding referenda did not do as well, a 59% passage rate was still better than the 55% average.

We should not underestimate how much schools, staff, teachers, students and parents have endured during the pandemic. Students, in particular, suffered as they were not only denied an in-person education for part of the time, they were denied the social environment of being with friends and teachers that is important for emotional well-being.

Funding support from the community send a positive message as schools try to get back to normal.

Keeping calm

Thumbs up to President Joe Biden for taking a steady approach toward China that uses firmness without vitriol.

Biden said last week that he is not concerned with the possibility of an armed conflict with China, adding that he’s made clear to Chinese President Xi Jinping that this is “competition” not “conflict.”

Biden said he has made clear to Xi that he must “play by the rules of the road.”

It is a refreshing approach after the saber rattling that marked so much of the previous president’s interactions with other countries.

Biden and Xi are to have a virtual summit in the near future. Biden’s focus should be on agreements to deflect military conflicts while pressuring China to stop unfair trade practices and abuses of human rights. Relations between the countries will continue to be tense, but averting armed conflict is vital.

Collaboration matters

Thumbs up to the new partnership between local health providers and Connections Shelter to bring health care to shelter guests.

Recognizing the obstacles for the homeless to access health care, Open Door Health Center and the Mankato Family Medicine Residency Program are providing health care to shelter guests the second and fourth Mondays each month.

Having the providers come to the site rather than requiring shelter guests come to them should do wonders to improve lives. Making appointments, figuring out transportation, coordinating follow-up are burdens the guests can set aside as a result of the new convenience. Even prescriptions are dropped off at the shelter.

With health problems among the main causes of homelessness, as well as one of the main issues keeping people homeless, it makes sense to make health care as easily accessible as possible to the shelter guests.

Setting a bad example

Thumbs down to the COVID-related duplicity of Aaron Rodgers, the star quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

Rodgers, the NFL MVP last year, has implied since the start of training camp that he had been vaccinated. He had, apparently, some sort of homeopathic therapy and sought to have the league certify that as sufficient. The league did not, but Rodgers has behaved for months as if he met the league standards.

Now he has tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss at least one game. And the Packers face a league inquiry into their apparently lax enforcement of the league’s protocols.

Vikings fans need not feel overly smug over this. Minnesota’s quarterback, Kirk Cousins, also has not been vaccinated. But at least he isn’t pretending to the contrary.

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