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Health care marketplace board ready to work

ST. PAUL -- Phil Norgaard uttered words seldom heard in the meeting-filled Minnesota Capitol: "I can't wait to get to some meetings."

The Fond du Lac American Indian Reservation human services director Tuesday had just been named to the MNSure board, which will govern a new health insurance marketplace, and he wanted to get to work.

Dr. Kathryn Duevel of Willmar also was eager to get started, taking on "a big responsibility" of making sure people with a "diversity of needs" all have access to good health care coverage.

Gov. Mark Dayton named Norgaard, Duevel and four others to the board, established to run the mostly online method of buying health insurance mandated by new federal law popularly known as Obamacare. The six, plus Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, must have the marketplace running by Oct. 1, with insurance policies set to begin Jan. 1.

Minnesota is setting up its own insurance marketplace, while neighboring states generally are relying on the federal government to establish theirs. It is one of the three states furthest along in setting up a marketplace.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature approved MNsure earlier this year over Republican objections.

Dayton, a Democrat, said he did not ask his appointees, picked from 112 applicants, about their party affiliation. One of the six appointees, a General Mills official, said he was a Republican.

The board's early duties will be mostly routine work such as establishing bylaws and guidelines, Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said.

Duevel said that making sure rural Minnesota has health coverage as good as what can be found in the Twin Cities "would be high on my list." Most people live in small communities, she said.

The same health insurance is not expected to be offered statewide, but she said that all Minnesotans need access to the same levels of care.

Norgaard said he attended a Wisconsin conference last year, and Wisconsinites indicated they were jealous when they heard about MNSure.

"I could see the faces of Wisconsin tribal leaders get longer and longer," he said, adding that now they knew how Minnesotans feel after the football season.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.