Steele County senator, representative will discuss proposed health exchange - Owatonna MN: News

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Steele County senator, representative will discuss proposed health exchange

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Patti Fritz, Representative for District 24B

Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2013 5:32 pm | Updated: 8:11 pm, Fri Jan 4, 2013.

OWATONNA – Rep. Patti Fritz is going to personally welcome Minnesota House members on Tuesday before she gets to work on a new way for individuals and small groups to buy health insurance.

On Jan. 8, 134 House members will be sworn in, and Fritz was asked to introduce each one. She quickly accepted.

Fritz, DFL-Faribault, also has the second seat on the House’s Committee on Commerce. She will work with Chair Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, on many topics, including the approval of the proposed Minnesota health exchange bill. Fritz said the committee will receive the bill next week and begin discussion on the health insurance exchange on Jan. 22.

“It’s a big bill. It will be a long and interesting discussion,” Fritz said. “I believe it will be the biggest bill we will get through the House next year. It’s a big deal.”

According to a state submission to the federal government back in November, by 2015, Minnesota’s proposed health insurance exchange is expected to cost $54 million to operate — a tab that the state might cover through user fees, a “sin tax” or maybe even the sale of naming rights for the new marketplace. The Pioneer Press reported that on Nov. 16, the state submitted its plans on how to operate its own health insurance exchange, which will change the way many individuals and small groups buy coverage beginning in October 2013.

The so-called “blueprint” for Minnesota’s health insurance exchange helps set the terms of debate over how the new marketplace might be funded and governed. But Jim Schowalter, commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, told the Pioneer Press that the cost projections are not set in stone.

Fritz, whose House district covers Medford and Ellendale, said the bill will save the average family $500 in premium costs. It will also extend the current law that allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. In addition, a federal tax credit will decrease premiums by 20 percent.

“It’s not free health care, there is a cost, but there is also savings built into it,” Fritz said.

Even with the supposed advantages, Fritz said there will be a lot of discussion on the bill in not only the House, but also the state Senate.

“It’s going to be a long haul, but the length of the process is good. It will weed out what is not needed.”

Vicki Jensen, who will be sworn in as the state Senator for District 24 on Tuesday, will be vice-chair of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce. She said her committee is one of eight Senate committees that will look at the Minnesota health insurance exchange.

Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, said she followed updates on the development of the current Minnesota health insurance exchange proposal while on the public policy committee with the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. Jensen, who owns an independent insurance company with her husband, does have apprehensions.

“I have always had concerns about the insurance agent’s side of it because that is my profession,” she said. “I still think there is a lot of work that can be done there. We need to look at the value of the agent when it comes to the insurance. It doesn’t seem like it’s meeting what it should at the exchange level.

“Small businesses, especially, are still going to rely on an agent, and I’m hoping that the agent will have some access to the exchange as well. At least be an advisor in some ways and be compensated for that.”

Jensen added that insurance agents are on the sidelines right now as Minnesota is currently looking at an HMO model. There were insurance agents on the task force that put together the proposal, but the parameters of what the agents’ role would be has not been laid out yet when it comes to the current draft of the exchange.

Even with her worries, Jensen said lawmakers need to work fast to make sure the bill gets signed.

“It has to be signed this year,” Jensen said. “If we don’t, the federal government will come in and provide one. And that is why Minnesota had chosen to do its own. The chamber of commerce has supported a health care exchange because they didn’t want the federal government setting up how it ran. If we don’t get it done, the federal government will come in and give us their template program.”

Fritz is also confident that despite the bill’s many hurdles, it will be passed.

“By the end of the session, Fritz said, “the bill should make it through the House and Senate and receive Gov. Dayton’s signature.”

Fritz will get right to work

Along with discussing the Minnesota Health Exchange and introducing House members, Fritz said she will also continue to work on an increase in funding for Minnesota nursing homes.

On Friday, Fritz planned to meet with Brad Harper, the new superintendent of the state academies for the deaf and blind in Minnesota. She has previously asked for $7 million to place a technology center at the Minnesota Academy for the Deaf (MSAD) as well as upgrade a parking lot as the school prepares for its 150th anniversary in 2013. Fritz would also like to see an independent living space for graduates of MSAD. If the facility is built by students at South Central Community College, the cost could come in under $400,000.

She said former state Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, did not support the measure when he was state senator of District 26. Parry will be replaced by Jensen, who, like Fritz, is a member of the DFL party.

“We couldn’t get Parry’s support, but we are hopeful of getting Vicki’s,” Fritz said.

Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan

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