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Senators approve online health insurance sales

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The bill establishing a Web-based system to buy health insurance and a similar one the House passed Monday night will head to a conference committee where lawmakers will merge the versions into one that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton likely will sign.

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Support for the Senate measure, like in the House, mostly split along party lines with Democrats backing the bill written by Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick.

Republicans’ big complaint was that no insurance agents or other experts would be allowed on the marketplace’s governing board.

“We are creating the most powerful board in the state of Minnesota,” Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said, and one without members who understand the industry.

Lourey said that the bill makes a historic change, saying it “will have a profound impact ... on people’s lives.”

“We definitely are changing the course of health care delivery in this state,” Rosen said. “Hopefully, we are getting it right.”

Lourey said 70 percent of 1.3 million Minnesotans who would use the marketplace, also called an exchange, would either experience no premium increase or would pay less.

While the measure mostly sets up a Web site for Minnesotans to compare and buy insurance policies, people who are not comfortable with using a computer for such needs also will be able to get help via telephone.

The marketplace also is how many people who obtain state-subsidized health care will apply for help.

Federal law requires the marketplace to be running by Oct. 1, with insurance policies starting Jan. 1.

The board to govern the exchange was the most contentious issue in legislative debate, which included stops in 18 committees. Lourey said he wants to exclude insurance agents and others actively involved in the industry because they would have a conflict of interest.

Senators amended Lourey's bill, on a 45-19 vote, to require all legislators to use the marketplace to buy their insurance. They accepted a few other mostly Republican-written amendments, but Democrats rejected all major changes.

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