ST. PAUL — More than 300,000 uninsured Minnesotans will have a route toward health coverage under a bill the state Senate passed Monday, the final legislative step toward implementing one of the major features of the new federal health care law.
The Senate approved the health insurance exchange bill on a party-line vote of 39-28. They sent the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton, who has vowed to sign it and whose administration has already been working for months on setting up the venture and hiring its employees ahead of a planned Oct. 1 enrollment date.
The centerpiece of the plan is the health care exchange, a website where individuals and small business owners can compare and purchase private insurance plans. By 2016, according to initial projections, about 1.3 million Minnesota residents will get insurance through the exchange. In addition to the 300,000 who are uninsured — who will get federal subsidies to help purchase coverage — another million Minnesotans will either transfer to the exchange from existing medical assistance programs, or through their employer.
"We finally get a plan that will hopefully give health insurance access to a lot of Minnesotans at a better price," said Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights.
Republicans, along with business groups and insurance companies, said they fear the new system will increase insurance costs. The $60 million a year needed to fund the operations of the exchange will be covered by a premium tax of up to 3.5 percent on plans sold on the exchange, which critics say will likely to put pressure on insurers to raise premium rates across the board. Some insurance companies also say they don't have enough time to prepare.
"We know our costs are going to go up," said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake. No Republicans voted to approve the final bill.
Once Dayton signs the bill later this week, pieces of the exchange will quickly come together.