Minnesota continues to work on the design and implementation of its Health Insurance Exchange as part of its compliance with federal health care reform laws. The state Departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services, along with an advisory task force, have been working for over a year on the Exchange, which will provide an online marketplace for Minnesotans to purchase health insurance.

The state recently signed a $41 million contract with technology vendor MAXIMUS to "build" the new web-based portal, which could impact up to 1.5 million Minnesotans. The contract covers all technology-based aspects of the project, including customer service and assistance features. Several weeks ago, Minnesota successfully became just the second state nationally to undergo an initial federal design review heavily focused on IT infrastructure. The next federal checkup will be held on Nov. 16, when the state expects to receive conditional certification for the Exchange. While no state in the country is expected to be fully certified this fall, full certification for Minnesota is expected by the summer of 2013.

In terms of certifying various insurance products for sale within the Exchange, health plans will submit offers in January to the Department of Commerce for review. At the moment, agency staff is not sure what will become of MinnesotaCare within the new Exchange, as there are some uncertainties about that program's future past 2013.

Cost projections for final development and operation of the Exchange are somewhat unclear at the moment, but Department of Commerce staff predict the state will need another $40-$80 million to finish building the Exchange and then another $40-$80 million for annual operations. Right now, one possible financing plan seems to focus on a combination of using premium dollars and Medicaid administrative matching funds.

Go here to learn more about Minnesota's Health Insurance Exchange.