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Pawlenty proposes state health insurance pact

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants fellow governors to sign onto his idea to set health-insurance standards and allow people to buy policies across state lines.

"Health insurance is an area that would benefit from a consistent set of standards to enable true market competition to flourish nationally," Pawlenty wrote Wednesday to his 49 colleagues.

The Republican governor, who most observers say is considering running for president in 2012, first mentioned the idea last week when he announced that he will ask legislators to approve a bill allowing Minnesotans to buy insurance from the 20 states that do the best job regulating insurance.

No state allows its residents to buy insurance from other states like Pawlenty proposes.

Fellow governors' initial reactions were cautious.

"Gov. (Chet) Culver believes health care is an issue which must be addressed, and he looks forward to working with all governors and the Obama administration in addressing this national unmet need," the Iowa Democratic governor's press secretary, Troy Price, said. "He will review Gov. Pawlenty's proposal, and determine what is in the best interest of Iowans."

The spokesman for Republican Gov. John Hoeven of North Dakota said the issue will be discussed with state Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm before he makes a decision.

"We are certainly willing to look at the idea," spokesman Don Canton said. "We work with Gov. Pawlenty on a number of other things."

Some other governors' offices reported they had not received the letter Wednesday.

Pawlenty said a 2004 compact that regulates life insurance in 33 states works well, and allows sales from state to state. He modeled his health-insurance proposal on that concept.

Democrats were skeptical of Pawlenty's plan to buy from the 20 states that Minnesota officials deemed to do the best job regulating health insurance.

Rep. Tom Huntley did not reject the plan, but the Duluth Democrat who leads a health finance committee said that he doubts the concept would save much money. Other Democrats said they feared that even if Minnesota checked out other states that sub-par insurance could be the result.

Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Glenn Wilson said that the additional competition might force the state's three major insurers to lower their rates.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.