Ellison: Ban for-profit health insurers

ST. PAUL (AP) — Attorney General Keith Ellison called on lawmakers Tuesday to reverse a consequence of 2017 law that repealed Minnesota’s ban on for-profit health maintenance organizations, saying for-profit companies could pocket billions in assets now held by the state’s nonprofit HMOs that should be spent on health care instead.

“This issue of HMO conversion can sound a little complicated but it’s actually pretty simple,” Ellison said, pointing to a sign carried by a supporter standing nearby at his news conference. “That’s our money.”

As nonprofits, Ellison pointed out, HMOs pay little to nothing in taxes. Minnesota granted those tax breaks, protected them from competition from for-profit companies, and gave them exclusive rights to run public health care programs in the expectation that they would act in the public interest, he said. By the end of 2018, he added, Minnesota’s nonprofit HMOs held about $6.7 billion in reserves, about $300 million more than at the end of 2017.

“The only appropriate use of that money is for improving the health of all Minnesotans,” the attorney general said. “We need to pass some controls now to make sure that if or when an HMO converts from nonprofit to for-profit status that money stays in Minnesota.”