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House Republican leaders have registered their opposition to a state-administered health exchange with a letter of protest to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Republican leaders push back on federal grant for health exchange

House Speaker Kurt Zellers was one of two signers of the letter to Gov. Mark Dayton.

With few options at their disposal, House Republican leaders have registered their opposition to a state-administered health exchange with a letter of protest to Gov. Mark Dayton, and are calling for a hearing to explore a $42.5 million federal grant toward the state’s exchange. House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and House Ways and Means Chair Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, sent the letter in their capacity as members of the Legislative Advisory Commission.

Zellers and Holberg’s “rejection” is more symbolic than functional: Even if the full LAC decides to reject the federal dollars, the vote would constitute a non-binding recommendation to Dayton, who could still choose to accept the funds.

Zellers and Holberg, the two permanent House members of the LAC, write that the letter is meant to “submit to [Dayton] our rejection of your $42.5 million in federal funds to build and implement a state health care exchange.” The exchange is a major and mandatory aspect of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The commission has also called a hearing, where Republican leaders are expected to put pointed questions to representatives of Minnesota Management and Budget, which is now in charge of preparing the state’s exchange.

The LAC hearing date has not been set. Dayton’s administration is facing a federal deadline of November 16 to submit an application to create and administer its own exchange. The application is largely pro forma, with the state needing to do little more than declare its intent and lay out a broad outline for the process, which would result in conditional approval to move forward with creating the exchange.

The Republicans quote from Dayton’s September 18 message to legislative leaders that he “will not commit Minnesota to any final policy decisions in this application.” To the GOP lawmakers, the acceptance of the $42.5 million, which follows three previous federal grants totaling $28 million, constitutes a commitment in itself.

“”[W]ith this request,” Zellers and Holberg write, “you are asking individual legislators to take on long-term costs which you have not defined to us or to the taxpayers who must ultimately pay for it.”

The GOP representatives go on to urge Dayton to wait “until or if” the Legislature approves the creation of the exchange. The letter, and the prospective LAC hearing, are a chance for the Legislature to have a voice in the current process, according to Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, Chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

“Leadership wanted to make it clear that we’re not fans of Obamacare and the exchange,” Abeler said. “[The letter] creates a dialectical discussion on this issue.”

Even if the LAC voted to recommend that the state reject the funds, Abeler conceded that a non-binding resolution to a governor eager to create the exchange would probably not win the day.

“I don’t think there’s any bullets in our gun,” Abeler said. “[Holberg and Zellers] recognize their power here, and they’re calling the governor to task on what he’s said, and what he’s doing.”

The LAC, which monitors grant funding while the Legislature is not in session, has four permanent members: Zellers, Holberg, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, and Senate Finance Committee Chair Claire Robling, R-Jordan. With six slots on each committee decision, the two rotating positions are filled by the corresponding committee chair in each chamber. Because a large piece of the federal grant would go toward hiring 54 full-time employees, House GOP staffer Kevin Watterson said, the additional House member would likely be State Government Finance Committee Chair Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead.


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