Mike Leavitt is no fan of President Obama or the massive health care law he signed in 2010.
A prominent Republican, former Utah governor and two-time Cabinet secretary under President George W. Bush, Leavitt prefers market solutions to government mandates.
But he arrived in the Twin Cities recently with a surprising message for Minnesota legislators who are skeptical of the Obama program: Embrace the Affordable Care Act and put it to work in your state.
"It's the law of the land,'' he told an audience at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. "But you can tailor it to your own needs.''
Leavitt speaks from experience. After becoming governor in 1993, he found that Utah's small-business owners were having a terrible time finding and buying health coverage for their employees. He directed his commerce commissioner to build a website where small employers could compare policies and shop for coverage.
Thus did Utah become a pioneer of "health insurance exchanges'' -- now a central pillar of the Affordable Care Act. The law requires all states to establish exchanges by 2014, either their own or one fashioned by federal officials, as part of the mandate that almost all Americans buy coverage.
In Minnesota, implementing the exchange and other parts of the federal law has been a stop-start affair, with Gov. Mark Dayton pressing the gas pedal and one camp of GOP legislators tapping the brakes.
Leavitt said they would be better off rolling up their sleeves and implementing the law, which leaves them great latitude, in ways that suit the values of their constituents and the needs of their consumers. "Every state is different,'' he said in an interview. "But the law is the law.''
Leavitt's visit marked the first in a series of forums at the Humphrey School on changing the health care system. It resumes on March 8, with Minnesota leaders, and March 13, with Joel Ario, a Minnesota native who worked in the White House and helped implement the Affordable Care Act.
Dave Hage • 612-673-7108