Senate panel OKs GOP alternatives to health exchangesby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee on Wednesday advanced two Republican proposals aimed at countering the federal health care overhaul.
One bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. David Hann, would allow consumers to save for health care costs with designated health insurance premium accounts. The bill is seen as an alternative to the health insurance exchanges the federal health care law allows states to set up.
The exchange concept is a cornerstone of the federal health care overhaul. An exchange would allow consumers and small businesses to compare and buy health insurance policies.
The other bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Chris Gerlach, would put limitations on any potential health insurance exchange. Gerlach said the restrictions are important because it's possible a health insurance exchange could be set up in Minnesota without the Legislature's consent.
"To simply punt it to the administration and let the Dayton administration along with the Obama administration in Washington through executive order and federal funding grants with no commentary, with nothing from the Legislature, I think does all of us a disservice," Gerlach said.
Supporters of the exchanges say they're concerned the Republican proposals would benefit employers rather than consumers.
AARP of Minnesota, which supports the federal law, released poll numbers Wednesday showing two-thirds of Minnesotans support an exchange. The survey, conducted by a polling firm, in February interviewed 800 registered voters ages 30 to 64.
"We cannot let politics, especially election-year politics, get in the way of this important element," said Michele Kimball, AARP Minnesota's state director. "This debate already happened; the law occurred. We are now in the process of implementing it."
Kimball said the AARP poll demonstrates that both Democrats and Republicans support the concept of health care exchanges. She said the Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton have an opportunity to work together to make such an exchange work well for Minnesota.
But Gerlach said there aren't enough votes in the GOP-controlled Legislature to set up a health insurance exchange.
The AARP and others have endorsed DFL-sponsored legislation that would set up a health insurance exchange. That bill hasn't yet been heard in committee, and it wouldn't be able to advance unless it's heard by the legislative deadline on Friday.