Despite the heated debates going on in Washington over how to dismantle the federal health care law, states don't have the luxury of waiting for the dust to settle -- they're already working on putting the law into practice.
Minnesota's new point person for carrying out the law's insurance reforms is Commerce Commissioner Michael Rothman.
As a staff member in the state Senate from 1988 to 1992, Rothman worked on a legislative project to overhaul Minnesota's insurance laws. Later, his wife got accepted into a master's program in California. Rothman joined her there and got a job at a law firm that represented that state in the demise of two insurance companies.
"You go from one thing to the next and before you know it it's one of your areas of expertise," Rothman said.
After California, Rothman returned to Minnesota and has practiced insurance law at the Minneapolis firm of Winthrop & Weinstine.
As commerce commissioner, Rothman is the state's chief insurance regulator. His major project on the health care front is spearheading development of Minnesota's health insurance exchange. The GOP-controlled Legislature is already considering legislation that would block some provision of the health overhaul.
But the law requires states to have these online marketplaces up and running by 2014 or the federal government will run the exchanges for them -- a fate many in Minnesota wanted to avoid. These Expedia-like online sites will allow consumers to shop for health insurance plans online like they do for airline flights.
Rothman said Minnesota has been behind in developing an exchange since last fall when Gov. Tim Pawlenty passed up a $1-million grant to jump-start a health insurance exchange in the state. The Obama administration, however, has allowed Minnesota to reapply for that planning grant and with that money, Rothman said the state will make up lost time.
"We have a lot of resources and a lot of great minds looking at the issue and from my perspective and the administration's perspective," he said. "We're going to take the opportunity to turn it around and get Minnesota back on track to develop and plan for these exchanges."
Looking ahead to 2014, Rothman sees Minnesota's future health insurance exchange as consumer-friendly and leading to increased competition.
"We want to focus on consumer education and outreach ... so that people can understand this very complex system and find ways to address costs," Rothman said.
Stemming the rising costs of health care while offering good value is a thorny dilemma, but Rothman also views it as an opportunity -- one to tackle in a collaborative effort. He said he wants to work with the health plans, doctors and medical centers and business to find some solutions to rising costs.
"It's an opportunity for us now to look at the next 10, 20, 30 years and say, 'With what we have now, let's sit down to work with everybody and figure out how can we make Minnesota's way of health care better for the future, for our children, families and our community,'" Rothman said.
Rothman said he's set as a high priority for himself and the Department of Commerce to work with Gov. Mark Dayton and the Obama administration to do everything possible in implementing the federal health care law in Minnesota.