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MinnesotaCare: Legislators ask feds to preserve health insurance program [Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.]

By Christopher Snowbeck, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 18--A bipartisan group of legislators is asking the federal government to help Minnesota tap funds that could preserve and improve the MinnesotaCare health insurance program.

MinnesotaCare was created by the Legislature in 1992 as a way to provide coverage to lower-income people who don't get health insurance through their jobs.

The future of the program has been in question because of the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010, which will offer premium subsidies for people to buy coverage through new insurance marketplaces known as health exchanges.

Some focused on the budget deficit in Minnesota have suggested the state could save money by closing the MinnesotaCare program and directing beneficiaries to obtain private health insurance policies through the state's health exchange.

But in a Thursday, Jan. 17, letter to federal officials, a bipartisan group of legislators signaled support for extending MinnesotaCare by tapping federal funds available to states that create what the federal health law calls a "Basic Health Plan." These new plans would cover a similar group of people to those currently enrolled in MinnesotaCare

"We are writing now to request your partnership in working with Minnesota to preserve and improve upon MinnesotaCare," the legislators wrote. "A wholesale switch from MinnesotaCare to the exchange would be a step backward for many vulnerable people in our public programs."

The letter was signed by 10 legislators, including Senate

Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Speaker of the House Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. Four Republicans signed the letter, including Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka and Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake.

Legislators are asking for a response from federal officials by the end of February.

During the 12-month period that ended in June, the MinnesotaCare program provided health insurance coverage to an estimated 129,000 people per month at a cost of about $558 million, according to an October estimate. Of the total, the state expected to pay $248 million, with the federal government chipping in $264 million. The remaining $46 million was expected from enrollee premiums.

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Christopher Snowbeck can be reached at 651-228-5479. Follow him at twitter.com/chrissnowbeck.

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(c)2013 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

Visit the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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