Legislative Update: 2018 Candidate Filings

     Filing for federal or state office in Minnesota is officially closed as of yesterday at 5:00 p.m., but not without some surprises. Last weekend, both political parties held conventions to endorse candidates for statewide office. However, multiple candidates who do not have the party endorsement are still seeking the support of voters of their respective parties in the primary, which will take place on August 14. Candidates currently filed for office have 48 hours to withdraw their name. The primary will determine which candidate will appear on the November ballot. Below is a summary of candidates who filed for statewide constitutional offices.
Governor – Lieutenant Governor (DFL)
Three tickets of well-known members of the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party have filed to run for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
•     Rep. Erin Murphy & Rep. Erin Maye Quade (DFL-endorsed)
•     Congressman Tim Walz & Rep. Peggy Flanagan
•     Attorney General Lori Swanson & Congressman Rick Nolan

Swanson’s surprise decision earlier this week to run for Governor instead of seeking re-election has created an open seat for Attorney General, the first time the office hasn’t had an incumbent seeking re-election since 2006.
Governor – Lieutenant Governor (Republican)
Two tickets featuring members of the Republican Party have filed to run for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.
•     Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson & retired Lieutenant Colonel Donna Bergstrom (Republican-endorsed)
•     Former Governor Tim Pawlenty & Lieutenant Governor Michelle Fischbach
Secretary of State (DFL)
•     Incumbent Secretary of State Steve Simon is unopposed in the primary as he seeks re-election to a second term.
Secretary of State (Republican)
•     Former State Sen. John Howe is the Republican-endorsed candidate to challenge incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon.
State Auditor (DFL)
Two candidates filed to run to receive the DFL nomination for State Auditor to succeed incumbent State Auditor Rebecca Otto, who is not seeking a fourth term.
•     Julie Blaha (DFL-endorsed)
•     Jon Tollefson
State Auditor (Republican)
•     Former state Rep. Pam Myhra was unanimously endorsed by the Republican Party of Minnesota to run for State Auditor and faces no competition in the primary.
Attorney General (DFL)
Six major candidates have filed to run to succeed Attorney General Lori Swanson, who announced she is running for Governor.
•     Matt Pelikan (DFL-endorsed)
•     Congressman Keith Ellison
•     Former Attorney General Mike Hatch
•     State Rep. Deb Hilstrom
•     Former Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman
•     Former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley

Attorney General (Republican)
Three candidates have filed to run for Attorney General in the Republican Party.
•     Former State Rep. Doug Wardlow (Republican-endorsed)
•     Former State Sen. Robert Lessard
•     Sharon Anderson

U.S. House of Representatives – 5th District
With Ellison’s decision to run for Attorney General, his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives will be open. Current legislators who have filed for Ellison’s seat in Congress (District 5) include:
•     State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray,
•     State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion,
•     State Rep. Ilhan Omar.
•     Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former MN Speaker of the House
•     Julie Sabo, former State Senator
•     Kim Ellison, Minneapolis School Board member
•     Frank Nelson Drake
•     Jamal Abdi Abdulahi


Medicare Advantage Plans for 2019

Sourced from Senior Life Insurance

While Original Medicare rarely changes, many insurance watchers expect Medicare Advantage plans for 2019 to vary quite a bit from the previous years. Medicare Advantage plans, sometimes called Medicare Part C, can offer a beneficiary an alternate way to receive their healthcare benefits after being enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B. Rather than having coverage delivered by the government, a Medicare Advantage plan has payments made by a private insurance company.

Changes to Medicare Advantage Plans for 2019

As always, it’s important to watch for updates during the Annual Election Period to see if any changes to your Medicare Advantage plan for 2019 will impact you. If you’re new to Medicare, you’ll also have a chance to compare Medicare Advantage plans for 2019 during your Initial Coverage Election Period for Medicare Part A and Part B. Continue on to learn about some changes to 2018 Medicare Part C that could impact premiums, benefits, and enrollment times.

2019 Premium and Benefit Changes for Medicare Advantage Plans

You’re probably most interested to know if your premiums will change for your Medicare Advantage plan for 2019. One of the reasons that interest in Medicare Advantage plans has grown so fast is that it is possible to join many of them with a very low or even a $0 premium. While your insurance company might not have released updates for rates yet, it’s possible to make some predictions based upon a press release from CMS about costs for Medicare plans for 2019:
•Anticipated increases in costs: Between 4% and 5%
•Anticipated revenue growth for insurers: Less than 2%

These cost and revenue increases may impact Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans, stand-alone Part D, and MA plans without drug benefits. In some cases, insurers may not pass along these costs as increases to premiums for customers; however, they might increase copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles.

The trend of finding fewer Medicare Advantage plans for 2019 with a $0 premium will probably also continue. At the same time, plan quality has continued to increase. For 2019, the government also hopes to tune the five-star rating system and to make it more transparent for consumers and insurance companies.

New Annual Election Period Medicare Advantage Plans in 2019

CMS also announced that they will do away with the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period for a Medicare Advantage plan for 2019. Beneficiaries used to only be able to drop their Medicare Advantage plan, enroll in Part D, and resume Medicare Part A and Part B during the first six weeks of the year.

There will now be a new Annual Election Period for the first three months of the year, and this in addition to the typical Annual Election Period each fall. This gives Medicare beneficiaries extra time to compare changes to their current Medicare Advantage plan, switch to a new plan, or even to drop out and just remain enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B. This gives people more time to make sure they made the best choice. During this second Open Enrollment, only one plan switch is allowed.

2019 Changes to Dual-Eligible Medicare Advantage Plan Enrollment

People who have both Original Medicare and Medicaid may choose a dual-eligible plan only one time during each quarter during the initial nine months of the year. They used to have the option of a month-to-month Special Enrollment Period. This includes Medicaid-Medicare options for Special Needs Plans SNPs or typical HMO MAPD plans.

Other Enrollment Notes for Medicare Advantage Plans for 2019

Medicare Part C won’t change its enrollment qualifications for 2019. Basically, you must have Original Medicare and not suffer from End Stage Renal Disease ESRD. People who have ESRD have other options. You can also find Special Needs Plans to help manage other chronic illnesses or situations.

Once you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, expect your insurer to send you a new ID card. You will usually take this card to the hospital, doctor, or another healthcare provider instead of your Medicare Part A and Part B ID card.

Popular Choices for Medicare Advantage Plans for 2019

It’s too early to know exactly how people will choose their Medicare Advantage plan in 2019. It is possible to publish some recent statistics of enrollment to make some predictions.

These are some enrollment statistics for Medicare Advantage plans in the past year:
•Total enrollment in a Medicare Advantage plan: Over 18 million
•Percent of enrollment out of all qualified for Medicare Part A and Part B: 33 percent
•Increase in enrollment in MA plans one year: two percent
•Percent in Health Maintenance Organization HMO plans: 63 percent
•Total Preferred Provider Organization PPO plans: 33 percent

Tips to Compare Medicare Advantage Plans for 2019

2019 Changes to Part D and MAPD

You can enroll in a MAPD that will bundle Part D drug benefits with medical benefits. In this case, make sure you check the formulary, or covered drug list, to find any prescriptions that you rely upon. Note that each insurer will have Prescription Drug tiers or drugs that they may cover at different benefit levels. For instance, you will probably have to pay more of the cost of brand-name medicine than for generic medicine.

In 2019, the infamous “Donut Hole,” or gap in RX coverage with Medicare Part D, will be closing. AARP reported that this gap has been slowly closing since the ACA implementation in 2010 and wasn’t expected to completely close until 2020. Now, it’s expected to close a year early in 2019, so many seniors will spend less for their prescriptions.

Understanding Kinds of Medicare Advantage Plans

The vast majority of choices for a Medicare Advantage plan for 2019 will rely upon provider networks to help control costs. Medicare Part A and B do not use networks, so if you’re used to original Medicare, you may need to spend some time understanding how these provider networks work.

If you choose an HMO, you need to get almost all of your covered health services from in-network providers. You also need a primary care doctor, or PCP, to give you referrals to specialists and certain other medical care. This means that you need to be sure that your favorite doctor and hospital are associated with the network. A PPO may charge higher rates, but it will cover out-of-network services. You still will save money with a PPO if you find in-network doctors and other medical providers.

Changes to Look for with Medicare Advantage Plans in 2019

Some MA plans offer additional benefits that you can’t get with Medicare Part A and Part B. These could include wellness programs, coverage for routine hearing and dental, and so on. Every year, you should check changes to provider networks and drug coverage to make sure the plan still serves your needs the best. Beyond this, you may expect modest increases in premiums or decreases in benefits or provider networks in 2019.

Governor signs 2018 pension bill

Gov. Mark Dayton has signed the 2018 Omnibus Retirement Bill into law.Governor signs 2018 Pension Bill

“That’s the last bill I’ll sign as governor of Minnesota and what a great way to end on,” Dayton said at the May 31 signing ceremony in the Capitol rotunda, which was packed with Minnesotans from all walks of public service.
The bill includes sustainability measures for all four of Minnesota’s public employee pension systems: the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA), the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), and the St. Paul Teachers Retirement Fund Association (SPTRFA).

For TRA, the law calls for reducing the retiree cost of living adjustment from 2 percent to a 1 percent for five years (2019-2023), then increasing by 0.1 percent per year in each of the following five years (2024-2028) to 1.5 percent. The law also includes a provision to delay the initial COLA to age 66 (effective July 1, 2024). This provision exempts those who retire under Rule of 90, age 62 with 30 years of service, disability benefits or survivor benefits.

The 2018 law includes a 0.25 percent employee contribution increase beginning July 1, 2023 (from 7.5 percent to 7.75 percent) and an employer contribution increase of 1.25 percent, from 7.5 percent to 8.75 percent, phased in over six years (fiscal years 2019-2024).

The law also changes reduction calculations for early retirement over a five-year phase-in period (fiscal years 2020-2024). Those who retire at age 62 with 30 years of service are exempt.
These measures reduce liabilities by $2.0 billion for TRA alone.

Upon passage in the Senate in March, pension bill co-author and chair of the  Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) Sen. Julie Rosen praised the engagement of those who have worked for three years on a pension sustainability package with “significant benefit reforms” as well as contribution rate increases for employers and employees. Rosen said the effort reflects “true shared sacrifice.”

The bill reduces liabilities by about $3.4 million (all four systems) immediately, lowers the rate of return on investments to 7.5 percent, puts the plans on the path to full funding, provides funding to schools to offset increased pension contributions, ensures that unfunded liabilities won’t weigh down bond ratings, and safeguards the retirement security of public employees for the future.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans earlier this year described the effort as a “very important sustainability package” that would improve the financial health of the pension funds and the state.

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of all stakeholder groups,,” said TRA Executive Director Jay Stoffel. “This is a great step forward for the retirement security of the members, for the health of the pension fund and for the state of Minnesota.”

Passage of a pension sustainability package comes after failed attempts in 2016 and 2017 to address funding issues resulting from changes in public employee longevity and lower anticipated investment returns.

The TRA Board of Trustees endorsed the sustainability measures with the stipulation that contribution increases be funded, and that legislation reflect the board’s guiding principles: shared commitment, long-term financial stability, intergenerational equity and maintaining the recruitment and retention value of the TRA pension.

Among the administrative provisions affecting TRA are updates to actuarial assumptions used to assess the plan’s financial health. The most significant of these is a lowering of the assumed rate of return on investments from the current 8.5 percent to 7.5 percent. The assumed rate of return is a powerful mechanism; lowering it increases TRA’s liabilities and lowers the plan’s funded ratio.

Courtesy of Minn TRA Communications