Policy makers facing tall task to lower insurance premiums in North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. - North Dakota's legislature is spending $31 million to help reduce the costs of health care premiums. Reinsurance is essentially insurance for companies against high cost claims. But it's only seen as a short term solution. The price tag over the next 10 years, according to legislators, could push $1 billion.

Over the next 18 months, lawmakers will look for a more permanent solution.

North Dakota's Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread stands 6 feet 10 inches tall, yet the job in front of him and legislators to lower health insurance premiums might be taller.

"The rising cost of health care is a significant issue, if not the number one issue,” said Godfread.

"We're at a critical point in North Dakota. We have to solve this problem,” said Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck.

Godfread's office is starting a year-long look into health care prices in North Dakota, using data from insurance companies and for the first time, the hospitals.

"We're going to get pretty down in the details to see if we can see any trends, any outliers, any issues that we can address. But we've never had this look before,” said Godfread.

Data from Legislative lawyers shows from 2017 to 2018, the average cost per premium on the individual market increased 26 percent, continuing on a decade long trend of rises.

"What's going on inside the hospitals that's costing so much? What's going on inside the insurance companies that's costing so much? Are there any policies we can do at the state level or is there anything we can do collaboratively between the two to bring down the costs for our consumers,” said Godfread.

"It's no longer well it'd be nice or even an option. We have to find some solutions. This is the interim we're going to try and do it,” said Keiser.

Godfread's report won't be ready until at least July 2020. Keiser says legislators will work on other solutions before the report comes out.

The North Dakota hospital association is also on board. NDHA President Tim Blasl says the hospitals are willing and ready to collaborate in the study. He adds hospitals will meet with Godfread in late August to discuss what he expects during the study.