The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 15, 2013

House passes health exchange bill

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House passed a bill early Friday creating an online health insurance marketplace that aims to provide a new way for at least 1.3 million Minnesotans to purchase coverage, a key element of the new federal health care law.

The bill now faces a final test in the Senate before heading to Gov. Mark Dayton, who has promised to sign it. It establishes a new state office, overseen by seven people appointed by the governor, to manage a website where insurance companies can offer their plans for sale.

The House passed the bill on a vote of 72 to 61, with all but one Democrat supporting it and Republicans uniformly opposed. Several Democrats sided with Republicans on a procedural vote earlier in the debate, a split stemming from the late removal of a provision that would have barred insurance sold over the exchange from covering abortions.

The exchanges are a centerpiece of implementing President Barack Obama's federal health care changes. States had the option of creating their own exchanges or letting the federal government do it.

In Minnesota, Democratic lawmakers opted to make it a homegrown project and crafted the complex bill in recent weeks through dozens of committee hearings and many hours of testimony. They have been working to meet an end-of-March federal deadline for creating state exchanges, ahead of a hoped-for start of enrollment in October.

Projections call for about 1.3 million Minnesotans to get coverage from the exchange by 2016, including 300,000 people who currently don't have health insurance. Another roughly 500,000 participants are currently eligible for government health coverage.

The rest are expected to be small-business owners, families and individuals who could get a better deal than their current insurance. None of those people would be required to buy insurance through the exchange, but those who do could be eligible for federal tax credits depending on their income.

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