Health-insurance exchange planning grants: required or discretionary?

Earlier today, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed an executive order directing state agencies not to apply for “discretionary” federal grants created as a part of the U.S. health-care reform act. On the heels of that announcement, health care policy-watchers would like the governor to define discretionary.

During last spring’s special session, the Legislature approved a measure that orders the state Health Department to apply for some of the grants the governor appears to have targeted, noted Julie Sonier, deputy director of the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, which is part of the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

Specifically, according to the bill summary, the legislation “requires the Commissioners of Commerce, Health, and Human Services to apply for federal grants made available in the federal health reform legislation. The grants will pay for state planning of state health insurance exchanges required under that legislation.”

So just how does all of this fine print get parsed?

“In practice, the deadline to apply for the insurance planning grant is tomorrow” — Sept. 1 — “so that’s a good direct question for the state Health Department,” said Sonier.

Unfortunately, the Health Department switchboard has shut down for the day.

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