A ten-member conference committee has been named to hash out differences between the House and Senate versions of the health insurance exchange bill.
In the House, Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, the chief author of the bill, will be joined by DFL Reps. Thomas Huntley of Duluth, chair of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, Tina Liebling of Rochester, chair of the Health and Human Services Policy Committee, and Dan Schoen, of St. Paul Park. The lone Republican conferee is Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka. Schoen was a surprise pick given that he’s a freshman and has not previously been particularly active in health care issues.
The Senate’s conference committee members are all DFLers. Sen. Tony Lourey of Kerrick, the chief author of the bill, will be joined by Sens. Kathy Sheran of Mankato, chair of the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee, James Metzen of South St. Paul, chair of the Commerce Committee, Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights and Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis.
There are a couple of substantive differences between the two bills. The Senate version allows the seven-member board that will oversee the exchange to determine which insurance products can be offered for sale. By contrast, the House bill allows all insurance firms that meet certain threshold requirements permission to offer plans through the marketplace.
In addition, the two bills differ on how to pay for the exchange, which is expected to cost roughly $60 million per year to operate. The House relies on a tax of up to 3.5 percent on premiums purchased through the marketplace, while the Senate utilizes tobacco taxes, which are part of the general fund.
Roughly 1.3 million individuals are expected to purchase coverage through the state-run marketplace once it’s in place, including 300,000 individuals who currently lack insurance.
Abeler was the only Republican to vote for the bill in either chamber, but that was only because it would allow him to have a seat on the conference committee. Abeler has indicated that he doesn’t support the House bill in its current form.
Two DFLers — Rep. Laurie Halverson of Eagan and Sen. Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka — voted against the bills on the floor.
Halverson says she objects to conflict-of-interest language in the bill that prevents anyone with financial ties to the insurance industry or medical providers from serving on the exchange board. She points out that similar state boards, such as the Public Utilities Commission, have industry representatives.
“They bring knowledge to such a complex system that lay people just don’t understand,” said Halverson, who previously worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Halverson says she’s keeping an open mind about the final bill. “I wouldn’t rule anything out,” she said. “I’m continuing to talk to the author.”