Add-ons to HMO audit bill may cloud approval prospects

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2012 - 9:50 PM

Senate version is losing some DFL support because of amendments that explore opening state health plans to nonprofits.

A proposal to tighten financial scrutiny of HMOs doing business with the state picked up momentum this week, with a bill requiring independent annual audits poised for approval in a key Senate committee and with a House committee likely to act next week.

The call for audits has gained bipartisan support because of concerns that state and federal regulators can't tell whether the insurance companies might be gaming the state's programs for low-income Minnesotans to get more taxpayer money than they should, or whether the state might be improperly shifting some costs onto the federal government.

But in a year of deeply partisan wrangling over health care policy, the bill also is becoming a vehicle for broader ideas from Senate Republicans about competition and market reform, clouding prospects for its passage, some legislators warned.

"I don't want to load up the bill and put a veto target on it," sponsor Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, cautioned during debate on Monday, as the bill was broadened by amendments from committee chairman Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

Hann proposed ending the longtime requirement that the state's HMOs must bid for the Medicaid and MinnesotaCare health care programs, and conducting a study of the effects of allowing for-profit HMOs to compete with nonprofits in Minnesota.

House sponsor Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said Tuesday that he likes the policy changes in the Senate amendments, "but I'd rather keep those separate. We need the audit information, and I'd rather not mess up [the bill] with other issues."

But because the measure carries a pricetag of $1.8 million, legislative leaders first must determine, probably by this weekend, whether they will allow approval of any bills this year that cost money.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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