Bipartisan House bill outlines state health insurance exchange

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 16, 2012 - 10:38 PM

Three influential Republicans have signed on to a DFL bill to set up the online marketplace by 2014. A federal exchange would be set up in states that don't take action.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, three powerful Republican House committee chairmen have signed on to a DFL bill to establish a health insurance exchange for Minnesota, a required but controversial piece of the Obama administration's health care law.

"I think some of us support the bill for different reasons, but we're all pretty adamant that we'd rather set up our own exchange instead of letting the feds establish a national model here," Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, lead sponsor in the House, said Thursday.

The federal Affordable Care Act requires that, by 2014, states establish exchanges -- online marketplaces where consumers can compare health insurance policies.

But Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, a leading critic of exchanges and the federal law that requires them, said he will offer his own legislation next week to improve health care insurance affordability, access and portability. "I can't imagine why any Republican would sign on to [the exchange] bill," Hann said.

The notion of a Minnesota health insurance exchange has drawn passionate debate ever since it became a requirement of the massive 2010 health care law. The federal law requires nearly all Americans to carry health insurance, and would set up a federal exchange in states that don't take action. So far, more than half the states have started work on exchanges.

In addition to 18 DFLers, the House bill is sponsored by committee chairmen Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, Health and Human Services Finance; Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, Taxes; and Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, Commerce and Regulatory Reform. A Senate version so far has only two DFL sponsors.

The exchange would be "kind of like a Travelocity for health insurance, but even more important," Atkins said.

While still lacking much detail, the bill begins to "put some meat on the bones" of a recommendation earlier this month by a task force appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton. It would be enough to meet a year-end federal deadline to show that Minnesota can have an exchange in operation by 2014, he said.

Under the Atkins bill, the exchange would be governed by a 19-member board appointed largely by the Legislature and governor. It would include consumers, small employers, the health care and insurance representatives, health practitioners, other experts and three state agency commissioners. It would require all insurers to participate, with the same rules for insurance plans in or out of the exchange.

Still to be spelled out -- probably in more controversial bills next year, he said -- are the basic benefits each plan must provide and whether operational directives will be in state law or left to the Commerce Department.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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