- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - State Senate lawmakers took the first step to eliminate MNsure’s governing board, a move that even its chief proponent said Wednesday won’t fix all the issues with the state health insurance exchange.

“It is not a perfect solution. But we don’t have a better solution,” said Sen. Tony Lourey, who authored the bill.

Lourey’s bill would make MNsure a state agency like the Department of Transportation or Department of Human Services, giving final say on its budget to the Legislature and the governor power to appoint its commissioner. The exchange is currently a quasi-private entity governed by an independent seven-member board that controls the exchange’s budget.

A Senate government panel approved the bill Wednesday on a party-line vote, with Republican members citing concern about adding to government bureaucracy and voting against it.

The bill rehashes an old argument: Lawmakers debated whether to set up MNsure as a government agency or as more of a private entity.

They eventually sided with the latter option. In retrospect, Lourey said that was a mistake.

“I’ve done the hard soul-searching to go back and say: I think we got that wrong,” he said.

Though it wouldn’t be a silver bullet to fix the technological issues that still plague MNsure, the change would make the exchange more transparent and accountable, the Kerrick Democrat said.

There’s no shortage of proposals to reform MNsure this year in the Legislature, where the exchange’s rocky year-one rollout is still fresh in lawmakers’ minds. To dissolve the MNsure board, Lourey’s bill will have to win out among the crop of other bills, go through several other committees and pass muster in the Republican-controlled House.

Critics of Lourey’s proposal said they favored another approach - keep MNsure’s board intact but add representatives from the health insurance industry and counties, which handle the bulk of enrollees in public programs like MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance.

MNsure needs people in oversight positions “who know and understand all of the elements of how the health insurance system works,” Kathryn Kmit of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, a trade group for insurers, told Senate lawmakers. Her organization and others in the health insurance industry expressed concern that a state agency format would make it harder for insurance experts to weigh in.

Sen. David Thompson, R-Lakeville, agreed. After voting against blowing up the board, Thompson likened the current lack of a health insurance industry representative to hosting a quarterback training camp but “telling Tom Brady and Russell Wilson not to apply.”

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