ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — Minnesotans will be able to buy health insurance online through a state-based marketplace called MNsure, starting in 2014.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill Wednesday creating that health insurance exchange. Dayton says it’s a major step in making health care better and more affordable.

It’s a key part of implementing President Barack Obama’s federal health care law. About 1.3 million Minnesotans are expected to get coverage through MNsure, including 300,000 who currently don’t have health insurance.

House lawmakers passed the legislation last week, with all but one Democrat supporting it and Republicans opposed. The Senate passed the bill Monday on a straight party-line vote.

The marketplace will be run by a seven-member board, including Health and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. Dayton has until April 30 to appoint the others.

So, what does the insurance exchange mean for Minnesotans?

MNsure will begin on Oct. 1. It will allow Minnesotans to shop online, over the phone or in person for the health insurance policies, and that has many Minnesotans asking questions.

“I’ve gone to some town hall meetings and the questions I’m hearing from the audience is ‘how much is going to cost?’” said Barbara Dickie, the executive director of St. Mary’s Health Clinics.

St. Mary’s Health Clinics operate eight clinics in the 17 county metro and they only receive about 5,000 visits a year. But each one of their clients is uninsured.

“We have a high Latino population of patients that we serve and many of them are not going to be eligible [for the insurance exchange] because of immigration,” said Dickie.

For those who are eligible, once the exchange begins, there will be a slow transition. With more people eligible for programs like Medicaid, it will free up clinics like St. Mary’s to help more uninsured Minnesotans.

Some of the people who will be eligible under the Affordable Care Act will include people who are laid off from their jobs; baby boomers who can’t find a job and do not qualify for Medicare; also college students who can’t afford insurance at their schools.

“This will make things easier for people to access insurance than it is now,” said Alicia Howes, St. Mary’s Clinic Operations Manager. “There should be less paperwork, a lot more things should be able to be done electronically.”

Dickie says the quality of life for many uninsured Minnesotans should improve because once they’re insured they’ll seek care more frequently.

“Many times patients that come to us have not had healthcare for a number of years,” said Dickie. “So their conditions are much worse … because of the fear of the cost.”

Dickie says the insurance exchange is a huge step in implementing the ACA. She says lawmakers across the nation are watching Minnesota.

“It’s not just a boom for our state but the whole country in terms of putting this in place,” said Dickie.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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