Two proposals to provide relief to the I-35W bridge collapse victims were discussed last week during a joint House-Senate Subcommittee on Claims. Rep. Ryan Winker (DFL-Golden Valley) and Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) outlined their respective proposals. The Winkler proposal would create a Catastrophic Survivor Compensation fund as part of the state treasury. A special master would be appointed to appropriate funds to collapse survivors. Payments could be made without reference to state tort liability limits of $400,000 per person and $1 million per catastrophic event.

Sen. Latz’s plan would be overseen by a third-party administrator, possibly a three-judge panel. There would be an individual liability cap of $400,000 and the plan would not apply the $1 million event cap. Both proposals would require that the victim release the state from any legal claims upon acceptance of funds.

While Latz and Winkler differ somewhat on their approach to a compensation fund, they are both clear that the fund is not meant to be used to reimburse health plans and insurance companies, which some claim is precisely what would happen.

According to the Dept. of Health, about 40% of Minnesotans are covered under self-insured or company-sponsored plans. Such plans are governed by federal, not state, regulations. And depending on how contracts are constructed, those plans can recoup damages recovered by individuals for medical bills or other reasons, until the plan is paid back. With health care costs continuously increasing, health plans are utilizing this practice more often.

Sen. Latz, a criminal prosecutor, said attorneys have differing opinions on how to proceed. “All we can do is try our best to formulate this compensation in such a way that the money will be able to stay with the victims,” he said. A number of proposals have been offered, including depositing the money in an account not directly linked with the survivor and requiring health plans to submit a waiver stating their intent before paying victims. Since the federal law trumps state law, legislators are hoping that health plans and insurers honor the intent of the legislation and allow the victims to receive the awards they deserve.

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