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House Taxes Chairman Greg Davids, Health and Human Services Finance Chairman Jim Abeler and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Hoppe have signed onto a health insurance exchange bill

House GOPers sign onto exchange bill

Rep. Greg Davids

Three key House Republicans have signed onto a bill carried by DFL Rep. Joe Atkins that would implement a key part of the federal health care law that has roiled conservatives across the state and country since it passed two years ago.

House Taxes Chairman Greg Davids, Health and Human Services Finance Chairman Jim Abeler and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Hoppe have all signed onto the DFL-led effort to establish a health care exchange in Minnesota.

No other Republican House member has signed onto the effort thus far, and a companion version in the Senate has garnered no Republican support. DFL Sen.Tony Lourey is carrying that bill in the upper chamber.

Davids will join DFLers in unveiling the legislation at a Thursday afternoon news conference. In an interview, he explained that while he’s not 100 percent behind the bill as currently written, he sees moving forward on a state exchange as the better of two options facing the state.

If the state fails to prove to the federal government by January 2013 that it is on track to have a health insurance exchange — a marketplace through which thousands of Minnesotans will buy coverage come 2014 — Washington would impose an exchange for the state.

That, Davids explained, was enough to get him to the table.

“I am a states’ rights person,” he said, adding that he still believes “Obamacare” is unconstitutional and should be repealed or thrown out by the Supreme Court. “But federal regulation is horrifying to me.”

That choice — and the specter of even greater federal control of health care in the states — has forced Republican lawmakers around the country to move forward on their own exchange. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is one such prominent Republican who has spoken out against the federal law while opting to take the lead on an exchange for his state.

In Minnesota, that reality has also contributed to a growing coalition of parties working on and supporting the Dayton administration’s health care exchange task force. Business, labor, health care and special interests groups such as Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life have signed onto the effort.

But thus far, Republicans in the Senate — led by Health and Human Services Chairman David Hann — have been among the staunchest opponents of the nascent exchange efforts. Last fall, Hann threatened to take the Dayton administration to court, contending that it overstepped its authority in moving ahead with an exchange.

He later scrapped those plans, but has continued criticizing the efforts and has said he doesn’t intend to implement the federal health law from his perch as Senate HHS chairman. The question of administrative authority to move forward an exchange has already come up in his committee, and promises to be a continuing trend this session.

Hann’s Senate Republican colleagues have stood fast, with not a single member lending support for the exchange legislation ahead of its roll out Thursday. But Davids said he is hopeful they will sign on, saying that he advised the Senate authors to “leave a couple spots open” for the Senate GOP.

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