ST. PAUL (WCCO) – State lawmakers are in the midst of a heated debate Monday night that could affect a million Minnesotans. It’s the centerpiece of the new federal health care law that would create an online system to buy health care insurance.

Democrats are calling this the biggest health care development for families in the last 50 years. They compare it to selecting a product online like Travelocity. But Republicans say it’s more like low-tech big government

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL – Inver Grove Heights) says that for consumers, it’s comparison shopping for the best price.

“This is capitalism at its best. This is competition right on your computer screen between health insurance carriers having to fight for your business in a way they have never had to fight for it before,” Atkins said.

Consumers pay their own premiums, and low-income families could get federal tax credits.

But more than a million Minnesotans are expected to use it, including 300,000 now uninsured. Some people on medical assistance are eligible. And small businesses with 50 or fewer employees could qualify.

Almost every Republican will vote against the health care exchange. It’s a major part of the new law many call “ObamaCare.”

Rep. Tara Mack (R – Apple Valley) says she’s predicting sticker shock, with higher premiums and possible tax hikes.

“It’s an enormous government overreach for a small percentage of the population that actually needs the help. Minnesota’s been known to have an excellent, excellent health care system and provide services for its people. And I think this is putting us down the wrong path,” Mack said.

It’s moving quickly. States must approve it this month, or the federal government will impose its own exchange, operated from Washington.

This way, say supporters, Minnesota has more control.

“The call center will be here in Minnesota. The people who are running it will be here in Minnesota. So you won’t be having to deal with federal bureaucrats to get questions answered,” Atkins said.

Supporters are predicting lower premiums, co-pays and deductibles. And they say that’s what’s happening in Massachusetts.

But it’s very difficult to separate fact and fiction here as this has never been tried before.

So far, 18 states are attempting to set up their own exchanges, and 10 have already passed laws to make it happen.

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