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GOP takes aim at health insurance exchange

Jake Grovum//August 16, 2011

GOP takes aim at health insurance exchange

Jake Grovum//August 16, 2011

HHS Committee Chairman David Hann (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Top legislative Republicans on Tuesday accused the Dayton administration of overstepping its authority in moving forward with a health insurance exchange under the federal health care law, saying they’re weighing every option to halt the implementation — including court action.

“We’re going to look at what avenues we have to bring it to a halt to it,” Senate Health and Human Services Chairman David Hann said at a Capitol news conference. “If [a lawsuit is] the avenue that we have to pursue, absolutely.”

The news conference comes days after state and federal officials announced a $4.2 million grant from Washington to aid in the setting up of the state’s health insurance exchange, which followed $1 million the state received from the federal government in February. The state has also put out a call for bids to begin setting up the back-end of a Minnesota exchange, which is slated to be established by 2014 under federal law.

Earlier this year, GOP lawmakers brought legislation to block all implementation of the federal health care law until its constitutionality was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. Republican activists were also present at the Capitol throughout the session looking to block any legislation that might be seen as an embrace of “Obamacare.” In the final hours of the special session, GOP Rep. Mary Franson successfully pushed for a last-minute technical change striking a reference to an exchange in the Health and Human Services budget bill.

As Hann admitted Tuesday morning, though, the broader provision blocking implementation was negotiated away in the dealing that led to the budget accord ending the state’s 20-day government shutdown. In Hann’s telling, though, that doesn’t mean the administration can move forward unilaterally.

“We believe they are exceeding their authority,” Hann said. “We’re going to do what we can to prevent them from continuing down this path.”

For now, it seems Republicans are content to protest the administration’s embrace. The lawmakers gave no indication Tuesday that a lawsuit was imminent, instead saying they want to see more input from the Legislature considered if the state continues to move forward.

The Department of Commerce, which is the state agency taking the lead on the health insurance exchange, maintains that it is moving forward in a way consistent with the authority granted under the approved budget law and is seeking input from all sides.

“The administration informed lawmakers of the grant Minnesota received last week,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a statement. “We are always open to discussions with the legislature and stakeholders.”

Since he took office, Gov. Mark Dayton has aggressively pursued implementation of provisions contained in the federal health care law. First, he reduced the amount of time it would take to expand the state’s Medicaid program by months compared to the expected timetable under the Pawlenty administration. Dayton also defended the Medicaid expansion against Republican attempts to repeal it, repeatedly saying he would veto any legislation that blocked the extension from going forward.

At the same time, the administration — particularly the Department of Commerce — has worked aggressively on the health insurance exchange. Not only has that meant implementation moving forward in St. Paul, according to those in the state’s health industry, but state officials have also been involved in meetings and discussions on the East Coast as the federal government tackles broader implementation questions ahead of the 2014 deadline.

The exchange issue has also split some GOP-aligned interests at the Capitol and around the country. Some business groups support the venture, while others have sought to participate in the implementation plans to help ensure the exchange is crafted in a favorable way. Under the federal health law, if a state refuses to set up its own exchange or is not on a path toward having one in place by 2014, Washington will step in to implement one on its own.

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