By Don Davis
Minnesota senators approved 39-28 a health insurance marketplace along party lines Monday, leaving only Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature as the final step.
Dayton is expected to sign the measure that would give Minnesotans a mostly Web-based place to buy health insurance, as required by federal law. If Minnesota does not establish its marketplace, also known as an exchange, the federal government will.
Republicans opposed the marketplace in the Senate, as well as when the House approved it 72-61 early Friday.
Bill author Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said business representatives such as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce refused to come up with their own ideas about how to set up an exchange.
“At some point, you have to ask if they want a Minnesota exchange…” Lourey said. “I have yet to see that marketplace that they would support.”
Republicans and chamber leaders disagreed. Chamber representatives said they spent thousands of hours developing hundreds of suggestions they offered legislators organizing the marketplace bill. The ideas mostly were rejected by Democrats who control the Legislature.
The final marketplace bill is a merger of what passed the House and Senate. One of the major changes was in how to fund the estimated $60 million annual marketplace cost.
Senators had approved taking money from state funds, while the House wanted to withhold up to 3.5 percent of premiums of policies sold in the marketplace. The compromise was for the first two years taking 1.5 percent of premiums, and allowing the marketplace board to borrow from the state any more funding it needs.
Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, complained that the House-Senate conference committee violated rules when it came up with a funding mechanism that was not included in either body’s original bill.
Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said insurance premiums would rise under a marketplace. Lourey, on the other hand, said costs eventually could fall.
The health care marketplace bill is at http://tinyurl.com/mnhealthexchange
Simple LGA formula
A freshman lawmaker Monday introduced a bill establishing a new way to calculate Local Government Aid.
With the support of urban, suburban and greater Minnesota cities, the bill by Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, removes arcane sections of the LGA formula such as how many accidents occur in a city. Backers of the Lien bill also say it would make it easier for cities to predict how much money they can expect.
The simplified formula is separate from a Gov. Mark Dayton proposal to add $80 million to the aid the state pays to cities.
“Over the last several years the underfunding of the LGA program has hobbled its effectiveness in delivering property tax relief to communities across the state,” said President Bruce Ahlgren of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and Cloquet mayor.
Ahlgren said legislators should notice the support from cities of all types.
“Everyone had to come in with realistic expectations,” the mayor said. “While no one walked away with everything they wanted, everyone is pleased that we have a framework for a stable and predictable program into the future.”
A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate.
Stumpf against test
A law Minnesota legislators approved last year requiring teachers to pass tests before being licensed is causing problems, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, says.
“The problem is the test is so tough some of the brightest and best potential teachers cannot pass this test,” Stumpf said. “The current test does not accurately assess competent teachers. Because of this, some well-qualified teachers are in danger of losing their licenses.”
Stumpf said the test rewards teachers who take tests well, not necessarily those who are smart.
A bill going through the Legislature would allow teachers who do not pass the tests temporary licenses for three years. Also, a task force would look into the situation.
“I think we should go even further and eliminate this test,” Stumpf said. “It is difficult enough to find good people willing to become teachers, let alone put unnecessary obstacles in their way which could discourage more students from entering into the profession.”
Small hospital help
Hospitals and other health institutions with fewer than 25 beds no longer need to obtain national accreditation before providing advanced diagnostic imaging.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed written by Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake.
During committee hearings, lawmakers learned that obtaining the accreditation from one of three national organizations was expensive. The bill was written so advance procedures remain affordable to small hospitals.
Institutions still would be to be licensed by the state Health Department.