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Sen. Westrom: Concerns continue on Health Insurance Marketplace bill

This past week the Health Insurance Marketplace (Exchange) bill continued to be heard in a variety of Senate Committees. It was passed out of the Commerce Committee after two hearings on the bill. Many amendments were offered by Republicans that helped increase choices and flexibility for consumers but were rejected. There are still significant concerns about the bill. One of them being the fact that this proposal would not allow all businesses with a health care insurance product to be included in the Exchange.

The HHS Finance Committee continued reviewing the Governor's health and human services budget. The Governor's FY 2014-15 proposed budget spends $11.57 million, which is $880 million more than FY 2012-13 and a nine percent increase over current biennium spending. The FY 2014-15 proposed budget also spends $128 million more than the November forecast.

The HHS Policy Committee passed Senate File 5 (Medical Assistance Expansion) which is an expansion of Medical Assistance coverage for persons up to 138 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Senators expressed concerns about the bill because the expansion is offered by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act. While the federal government says they will pay for the cost of newly eligible enrollees for the first few years of the program, the expansion will cost a huge unknown amount down the road that the state will be expected to cover.

In addition, the Tax Reform Division held preliminary hearings on a range of issues. Two proposals were considered to establish an up-front sales tax exemption for business purchases of capital equipment. Currently, Minnesota employers are required to pay the sales tax at the time of purchase and apply for a refund later creating a blizzard of paperwork and cash flow problems. This bipartisan idea has enjoyed broad support, and in fact was passed by the 2012 Legislature, though ultimately vetoed in a broader tax bill by Governor Dayton. 

Lastly, the Division began a discussion over the complex topic of business taxation and the tax treatment on Minnesota's many research based employers. Former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, now President of the Minnesota High Tech Association, was among the testifiers reiterating that current tax policy, including that the so called "foreign royalty deduction" is important to many of the state's biggest employers. Minnesota employers with a long tradition of innovation through research and development support over 1.2 million Minnesota jobs, nearly 50 percent of Minnesota's private sector jobs according to the state's high tech and life science associations.

Senator Westrom encourages and appreciates citizen input. He can be reached by telephone at (651) 296-3826 or (855) 407-7386, by mail at 107 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at