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Minnesota draws $39 million for insurance exchange [Star Tribune (Minneapolis)]

By Jackie Crosby, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 17--Minnesota has reeled in an additional $39 million from the federal government to continue its work developing an online health insurance exchange aimed at helping individuals and small businesses buy more affordable insurance.

In all, the state has received five grants worth $109.3 million in its effort to build a Minnesota-tailored marketplace where consumers can shop around for coverage starting Oct. 1.

About 1.3 million Minnesotans are expected to use the exchange eventually, including 300,000 who are now uninsured. State officials say Minnesota could save $1 billion a year on health care costs.

The exchanges are a major part of President Obama's health care overhaul to help more than 30 million Americans get insurance coverage and to bring down the unsustainable increases in the cost of health care.

Those who use the exchange will have a one-stop marketplace to compare health plans for price and quality, enroll in public health programs and determine eligibility for tax credits to make premiums more affordable.

The grant money "brings Minnesota one step closer to a state-based health insurance exchange," Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said in a statement. It will be used for IT licenses and maintenance costs, call-center operation, consumer outreach and assistance, and testing.

Minnesota lawmakers are working on legislation needed to enact the state's exchange. A Senate committee gave initial approval to a bill Wednesday in the first of several steps. The bipartisan bill is on a fast-track under a Democratic governor and a DFL-controlled Legislature, as a federal March 31 deadline looms.

The state has hired a vendor to build the technical backbone of the exchange, which is expected to operate like an online travel site and can also be accessed by phone.

Minnesota was one of 11 states to share $1.5 billion in grants announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Others went to California, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont.

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A total of 49 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories have received grants to plan their marketplaces, and 34 states and the District of Columbia have received grants to build their marketplaces.

Jackie Crosby -- 612-673-7335

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(c)2013 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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