Minnesota’s Republican legislative leaders say they’re worried about the state health insurance exchange being ready for its Jan. 1 launch, and that Gov. Mark Dayton needs to take responsibility for the issues that have beset MNsure to this point.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and Senate Minority Leader David Hann called a press conference Monday afternoon to express their concern about MNsure, citing a number of factors that could lead to confusion or problems when plans are supposed to go into effect. Chief among them is the possibility that consumers who have enrolled in an insurance plan on the exchange website will try to receive treatment, only to find out their insurance has not yet gone into effect.
Hann said insurance companies he has spoken to still have not received records on customers who have signed up for their health plans during the open enrollment period, which began Oct. 1. Consumers still have until the Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for insurance plans that start on Jan. 1. The delay in transferring information to insurers inspired a recent letter from Council of Health Plans executive director Julie Brunner, who addressed her message to MNsure, the Department of Human Services and several legislators.
Hann went on to say that people who enrolled through MNsure had yet to receive insurance cards that could be presented during a hospital or doctor’s office visit.
“To our knowledge, there has not been a single insurance card issued,” he said.
Both Hann and Daudt observed that Dayton had been an early and enthusiastic booster of Minnesota’s setting up its own insurance exchange, one of the major choices given to states following passage of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Because he pushed for the state to run its own operation, they argued, Dayton owed it to Minnesotans to make sure the program runs effectively.
“It’s up to the governor now,” said Daudt. “We have a lot of questions that have gone unanswered.”
Some of those questions had come in the form of letters sent by Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, and several other GOP members of the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee. Both Nienow and Daudt have criticized the lack of recent hearings on the part of that committee, which has not met since September.
As evidence that MNsure was not running smoothly, Daudt pointed out that MNsure.org was down at the time of the Monday afternoon press conference. A message posted on the site said the enrollment process would be inaccessible during a system upgrade.
“We’re not getting any answers or seeing any signs that instill any confidence in us that the governor is doing the right things to make sure that people are going to be insured,” Daudt said.
Soon after Daudt and Hann spoke to the media, Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, released a statement in reply. Atkins, chief House author of the MNsure enacting legislation that passed earlier this year, said the state exchange should be disassociated from the technological glitches that have plagued the federal Healthcare.gov website.
“We should move forward with implementing MNsure while working together to quickly fix issues as they arise,” Atkins said, “rather than repeal these reforms and deny affordable coverage to tens of thousands of Minnesotans — including women, children and those with pre-existing conditions.”
Earlier on Monday, businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Honour issued a press release calling on MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov to resign following news reports of her recent vacation to Costa Rica. Todd-Malmlov left the country for a two week trip in November, though a spokesperson has said she was in frequent contact with MNsure employees during that critical time.
Honour referred to several apparent problems with the exchange, including the accidental leak of insurance brokers’ Social Security numbers and the possibility that more than 100,000 Minnesota residents could lose their existing insurance plans if the coverage does not meet certain requirements.
“MNsure is a disaster, in both design and execution,” Honour said, adding that Todd-Malmlov’s decision to schedule a vacation “during the troubled rollout of a government program that affects the lives of almost every Minnesotan is beyond belief.”
Dayton addressed the vacation controversy last week, saying her trip might have been scheduled many months in advance, and that ultimately the responsibility for the timing of Todd-Malmlov’s vacation lies with her.