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Health reform discussed

Published (4/8/2010)
By Lauren Radomski
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Deputy Commerce Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala, from left, April Todd-Malmlov, a health economist with the Department of Health, and Brian Osberg, Medicaid director at the Department of Human Services, testify during an April 6 informational hearing on state conformity with the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)State lawmakers are trying to determine what the March 23 passage of federal health care legislation means for Minnesota and how new reforms may be implemented.

The House Commerce and Labor Committee, the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee and the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division met April 6 for an informational hearing on the federal law.

Minnesota is in a unique position because of past state-level health care reforms that are already operational, according to officials with the Commerce, Health and Human Services departments.

“One of the interesting things about realizing how much work we have is to compare us to other states that don’t have rate review, medical loss ratios, a high-risk pool,” said Manny Munson-Regala, deputy commissioner with the Department of Commerce. “Those states keep coming to us for information, so it makes us feel a little bit better.”

Yet the work is not as simple as moving participants in Minnesota programs into newly created or expanded federal programs. For example, the federal law establishes a temporary, high-risk pool to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months. While Minnesota already has a similar safety net, the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, not everyone in MCHA will qualify for the federal pool, said Julie Sonier, deputy director of the University of Minnesota State Health Access Data Assistance Center.

Similarly, state officials are waiting on information from the federal government to determine how many participants in General Assistance Medical Care and MinnesotaCare may be covered under an expansion of Medicaid.

Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) said he is concerned the federal provisions could up-end some Minnesota policies that are working. He recommended state officials explore options for keeping those policies in place.

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) requested a list of the choices legislators will be facing as a result of the federal law.

“I don’t know how long such a list would be,” she said, “but it would be helpful to sort of have the full scope of what our decision-making has to cover as we get started on some of this.”

The hearing was attended by a delegation representing the Citizens’ Council on Health Care, which opposes conforming Minnesota law to the federal reforms. The group’s president, Twila Brase, said federal law violates the constitution by requiring people to purchase health insurance and will ultimately lead to higher health care costs.

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