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Minnesota Exchange Bill Moves Forward Without Abortion Restrictions

UPDATE, 7 a.m. March 15: The Minnesota House approved the conference committee bill in a dramatic midnight vote after hours of heated debate. Elizabeth Stawicki’s report on the vote will be posted shortly. 

ST. PAUL, MINN. — Abortion restrictions have been cut from a final version of Minnesota’s health insurance exchange bill that will impact how more than a million people obtain health coverage beginning this fall.

The state House-Senate conference committee working on the bill Wednesday also settled on a way to fund the website: There will be a 1.5 percent user fee on premiums for plans sold on the exchange in 2014 and up to 3.5 percent in 2015. Those fees are comparable to a 1.4 percent fee that the Colorado exchange board just set and a 3.5 percent fee expected to be set for the federal exchange, which will operate in 26 states. The Senate had wanted to use an existing tobacco tax to fund it.

The online marketplace will allow consumers to compare and purchase private plans on the open market, and tell them whether they might qualify for subsidies or for Medicaid.

The panel also decided to allow all plans that meet state and federal requirements to be sold on the exchange. The bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Democrat Tony Lourey, of Kerrick, had wanted the exchange’s oversight board to have the final say on which plans were sold. But under the committee changes, the board won’t have that power until 2015.

The original House version would have restricted abortion coverage for all plans sold on the online marketplace. With that provision gone, the House bill’s chief author, Joe Atkins, D-Inver Grove Heights, said he couldn’t predict how House members would vote.

“We had a House position. It was rejected quite resoundingly by the members of the conference committee and we’ll see what happens when we get it to the House floor,” he said.

Lourey said the Senate had to give “quite a bit” on how to fund the overall program, but in the end he called it a good bill.

“I think at the end of the day, we met the broad goals that we set out and I feel confident,” he said. “I think we can move this in the Senate.”

Both houses of the Legislature are expected to vote on the bill within the next week.

This story is part of a collaboration that includes Minnesota Public Radio News, NPR and Kaiser Health News.