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Sen. Torrey Westrom: Minnesota health insurance exchange passes the Senate

ST. PAUL -- We spent a long day on the Senate Floor last week (March 7, 2013) discussing and trying to improve with amendments the Minnesota Insurance Exchange (MIE) bill. This is part of the federal healthcare reform legislation (the Affordable Care Act/ObamaCare) which asks each state to set up an “exchange” for the purpose of health insurance.

Proponents expect 1.3 million people, which is about one-fourth of Minnesotans, to use the exchange starting this October. Small businesses with up to 100 employees or those without coverage can purchase health coverage in the exchange.

Minnesotans do not know what this bill will do to their economy, families, and businesses. Not only does this bill increase costs for Minnesotans, with a 94 cent/pack of cigarettes tax or a 3.5 percent insurance premium tax, it may limit their choices in health insurance coverage and fails to provide adequate representation.

Ironically, instead of lowering costs, the Minnesota Insurance Exchange will make healthcare more expensive and less affordable. There are reports that show premiums could increase by more than 20 percent. The IRS estimates the cheapest cost for a family of four to be $20,000. The exchange itself costs a projected $332 million from 2011 to 2016.

In addition, this bill permits the MIE to limit choices to consumers across the State of Minnesota. An unelected government body will be making the decisions determining which products are and are not offered. We want all health care options available to Minnesotans, not just some.

One of the most controversial provisions in this legislation is the unelected seven-member governing board that has complete control of everything in the exchange, including establishing health insurance premium rates, with little or no accountability. I offered common-sense amendments through the committee process to address these concerns but no substantive improvements were accepted by its DFL author. One amendment I offered would have established a legislative review of the board within 18 months, but it too was rejected by the DFL.

Minnesota’s healthcare exchange should be governed in a way that protects and empowers those participating to make their own choices. This exchange does not allow competition and freedom of choice. This legislation leaves legislators, families and business owners with unanswered questions and concerns. The most notable provision of this bill is that it allows the MIE to exclude some health care insurance products from the exchange.