Health insurance exchange recommendations spark spat

Republicans declined to take part in task force study

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

A health insurance exchange advisory task force handed its recommendations to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday, stressing the need to find a Minnesota solution in establishing a state insurance exchange.

But the recommendations were drawn without Republican input, the governor explained. “They declined to participate (in the task force),” Dayton said.

Dayton insisted the task force was not steered by the administration, but just the opposite. “They’re the ones leading us,” he said.

It’s a shame Republicans were unwilling to join, Dayton said.

Still, Dayton was not defeatist when asked about the recommendations surviving contact with the Republican legislature. The legislative session has just begun, Dayton said.

States have until Jan. 1, 2013, to create their own health insurance exchanges — Internet sites where consumers can shop for health care coverage and review prices — or the federal Department of Human Services will step in, according to the task force.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, warned against letting the feds set up the state’s health insurance exchange, saying they’d muscle in a broad, one-size-fits-all model.

“It makes me very optimistic (of success),” said Atkins of positive comments he has heard from House colleagues concerning the insurance exchange idea. Atkins will be carrying an bill in the House and expects to quickly write one.

But he also spoke of a work in progress.

A former state employee, Patty Thomas, 55, of Fridley, explained after the governor’s press conference that on her current $10.50 per hour salary she’s unable to afford private health insurance. A diabetic, she was hard-pressed to get insulin to treat her diabetes and the lack of proper treatment landed her in a hospital emergency room, she said.

Thomas, appearing at the State Capitol with Take Action Minnesota, does not believe her story is unique. She views the formation of a health insurance exchange as a step towards finding more affordable health care.

“I think it’s sad,” she said of the lack of Republican participation in the task force. “This is something that’s so needed.”

But Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he understood the Dayton Administration intended to craft its insurance exchange proposal basically on its own.

“Bring the bill. Work with us,” Hann said.

Hann said he found it curious that supporters of the federal health care bill now indicated trepidation over having the federal government craft the state’s health insurance exchange. Moreover, Hann said that the federal health care bill is poorly understood.

“Nobody knows anything about it,” he said.

Hann spoke of crafting health insurance exchange legislation upholding the values of the free marketplace. That doesn’t include the use of “navigators’ to steer consumer selections, he said.

Among recommendations made by the task force include that the state exchange have a board of directors, 15-20 members serving staggered terms, be subject to overview from the state auditors, have a rigorous conflict of interest policy and honor the fair and open marketplaces.

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