Dayton appoints two health care panels

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 31, 2011 - 8:04 PM

One will address setting up an insurance exchange, which is opposed by many Republicans.

Vowing to keep Minnesota at the forefront of innovation in health care, Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday appointed a 17-member task force to develop proposals to improve medical care, cut costs and reduce health disparities among Minnesotans.

The first job, to be taken up quickly by a second advisory task force, will be to craft a Minnesota health insurance exchange -- an online marketplace where consumers can shop for coverage -- which the state must have in place by 2014 under the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010.

"The status quo is not good enough,'' Dayton said in a statement. "We need to find new ways of delivering better quality health care at a lower price.''

The effort, however, is likely to land the governor squarely in the middle of a political struggle at the Republican-led Legislature. Though insurance exchanges were first proposed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007, many GOP legislators now oppose them as a first step toward a federal health care system or because they are part of the larger national law, sometimes called "Obamacare." More broadly, many object to the federal law's mandate that nearly all people have health insurance, one of the underpinnings of the state insurance exchanges.

DFLers and some business groups pressed early this year for legislative authority to start designing an insurance exchange, but the Legislature took no action on a bill by Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud. Administration officials said they had to move ahead because of legislative inaction. If Minnesota does not act, a federally designed exchange would be put in place under the law.

Monday's announcement drew the ire of Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Though Dayton's commissioners of Commerce, Human Services and Health said at a news briefing that legislative leaders were consulted and will appoint four members to each task force, Hann said he was not informed.

He said he wants to hold a hearing on Dayton's plans soon because the governor and his team "have not come to the Legislature at all to talk about what they intend to do."

Gottwalt, for his part, said he hopes the Legislature will take action on an exchange when it convenes in January -- even though he said he remains a skeptic about many aspects of the federal health law. "We still need to do the stuff that moves Minnesota ahead," Gottwalt said.

The 15-member insurance exchange task force will be led by Commerce Commissioner Michael Rothman and will hold its first meeting Nov. 8.

While Rothman's task force will tackle design and operation questions for the insurance exchange, the other task force will take up larger questions of health care quality.

A word of caution

"Minnesota has always been a leader in health care, and this executive order keeps us on the path of staying in the forefront of health care innovation," said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who will chair the main task force.

However, Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, cautioned against too much action.

"Frankly, given the federal health care reform and our own changes in Minnesota, a lot of people are reformed out," he said. "They're asking us to slow down and let them catch their breaths."

To read Dayton's announcement and names of his appointees, go to www.startribune.com/a770.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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