DFLers want to beat feds to health insurance changes
ST. PAUL - Some Minnesota officials say the race is on to beat the federal government in setting up a marketplace to buy health insurance.
Health insurance exchanges for individuals and small businesses are required to be running in each state by 2014. If state governments do not establish them, federal officials will step in.
Getting the job done, as Democrats want, will be tough. When Gov. Mark Dayton went in front of reporters Monday to announce an outline of a health insurance exchange, he was backed by some fellow Democratic officials, but no Republicans.
"Tea Party folks want nothing to do with this. Period," Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said.
Another key health-care Democrat, Sen. Tony Lourey of Kerrick, said he is working with Republicans on an exchange bill.
Lourey said that he understands Republican reluctance to work with a bill that implements an Obama administration policy.
"It's really hard, and I get that," Lourey said.
Republican Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie, who leads the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said Republicans soon will have their own bill dealing with the same issue.
However, Hann said, while his bill will address accessibility, affordability and portability of health insurance, it will not establish health insurance exchanges like Democrats want.
Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman called an exchange "a marketplace for individual and small businesses to purchase health care insurance."
An exchange mostly would be an Internet site where Minnesotans could compare and enroll in private health insurance plans. The exchange, the state or federal government would not provide insurance.
While much of the work would be done on line, Rothman said agents still could be involved for those not comfortable with buying insurance on the Web.
Dayton criticized Republicans who control the Legislature for not taking part in planning to begin exchanges.
"There is not a Democratic or Republican sickness," he said.
Hann said he never was invited to take part in the Dayton exchange task force. Republican held their own meetings to discuss health care reform.
The senator said a governor's staffer said that Dayton would enact 98 percent of the exchange provisions even without legislative approval. Dayton told reporters he could enact some provisions.
Republicans like Hann dislike what they call "Obamacare" and think court challenges will find it unconstitutional.
Lourey said Minnesota has a history of innovative health care, and he does not want to take a chance on what the federal government could impose on the state.
"It is kinda what Minnesota has prided itself in doing ... doing what is right for the state," he said.
Minnesota's health care is different than many states, Huntley said. For instance, few states have half of its doctors in large clinics, like in Minnesota, he said.
"Minnesota's health care system is remarkably different than the rest of the country," he added.