Rep. wants exchange group to have more accountability

MARSHALL – House Rep. Chris Swedzinski has issues with the state’s proposed Health Insurance Exchange, which is a component of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and topping his list of concerns is how a “super agency” will essentially supercede a state-level department.

The seven-person group, known as the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange Advisory Task Force, will be in full control of the state’s health insurance market. Swedzinski said the appointment of non-elected officials goes beyond Affordable Care Act mandates.

“We constantly talk in government about being responsible to the citizens, and this bill really creates a ‘super agency’ where the folks aren’t going to be responsible to the voters,” Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said. “They have all the rule-making authority. There are seven people on the board, so four people can essentially make law. That’s not our job as legislators to be supporting anything that empowers unelected people.”

An exchange is basically an online marketplace where residents can purchase private health insurance or enroll in programs like Medical Assistance or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). According to Health Reform Minnesota, subsidies and tax credits will be available to eligible individuals and small businesses to make coverage more affordable.

Bipartisan legislation to establish a health insurance exchange was introduced in January by Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, and Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick.

The legislation is co-authored by two leading House Republicans Reps. Greg Davids of Preston, the GOP lead on the House Tax Committee, and Jim Abeler of Anoka, GOP lead on the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee.

DFL Rep. Andrew Falk of Murdock said the exchange will make it easier for people to compare different options when they are purchasing health care.

“The truth is, if we don’t create this exchange the federal government will create one for us,” Falk said. “And I know I’d rather work with Minnesotans than people out in Washington. Our committee approved the bill and I hope we can get this passed as soon as possible. It’s something that will make it easier for Minnesota families to get health care and hopefully to find the best deals as well.”

The Legislature projected that Minnesota families would save more than $1 billion by using the exchange to purchase insurance, with the average family saving $500 and a lower-income family saving approximately $1,800.

Small businesses with as many as 100 employees or those without coverage can buy health coverage in the exchange.

But Swedzinski said other Republicans want to make the group more accountable. He said unclassified employees shouldn’t be given the authority to make laws internally and go over the heads of the commerce department.

The exchange board is also exempt from rule making statutes.

“It’s almost like a two-tiered system – you can make it through the state, but that doesn’t mean it will make it through the Exchange,” he said. “If you’re in the insurance industry you are barred from being on this board. You would think we would want people engaged in the marketplace on this committee.”

Swedzinski calls Minnesota’s one of the most expensive exchanges in the nation from a bureaucracy standpoint. He said the exchange website cost more than $41 million.

Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) recently announced that Minnesota received a $39 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to continue design and development of the exchange.

The exchange, Health Reform Minnesota says, will serve 1 out of every 5 Minnesotans about 20 percent of the state, or more than 1.2 million Minnesotans.

The state’s plan is due to the federal government by the end of March.

Enrollment in the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange begins Oct. 1, with plan coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014. If states are unable to set up an exchange, the federal government would step in and establish it for them.

Some states, Wisconsin being one of them, chose not to create an exchange.