Paul Bunyan took one for the team, says Gov. Mark Dayton
"The purpose of the ads is to attract attention and get a buzz going and I think they've achieved that," said Dayton, of the tongue-in-cheek ads that show the Bemidji icon whacking his own shin with an ax and sledding groin-first into a tree, in an effort to remind Minnesotans that everyone needs health insurance.
The ads, which debuted this week, are the first big PR push by MNsure, Minnesota's new online health insurance marketplace. The system will allow residents and small business owners to shop online for health insurance plans the same way they surf travel sites for the best plane fares.
But MNsure's campaign to raise public awareness by Bunyan bashing isn't a hit with everyone. In an interview with the Bemidji Pioneer, Mayor Rita Albrecht called the ads as an "offensive" and "inappropriate" mockery of a beloved community landmark.
"I know they're very proud of Paul and Babe, and rightfully so," Dayton said of Bemidji's offended leaders. "I don't think the effort was intended with any disrespect. I hope people will pay attention so we can get people...signed up."
MNsure will begin enrolling participants in October and the system is supposed to be up and running by January 2014, when all Americans will be required to have health insurance. Dayton says he expects the system to launch on schedule, despite, ""all the pushing on the other side, trying to undermine it."
Republican lawmakers fought tooth and nail to block the creation of a state-based insurance exchange. The federal Affordable Care Act created a federal health insurance marketplace that states will use if they didn't takes steps to create one of their own, as Minnesota did earlier this year. Participation is voluntary, but the estimated 1 million uninsured or underinsured Minnesotans who enroll in MNsure will be offered tax breaks for participating.
Dayton said the cheeky Bunyan ads are a way to show people the positive side of a system he says has been under "a vicious, ongoing assault" from critics for years.
"I've never seem a public policy issue in this nation get the kind of just vituperous attacks the Affordable Care Act is still receiving," Dayton said. "From people who clearly want the exchanges to fail so they can go in and pick up the pieces afterward. I don't know how they think that's going to benefit people who don't have healthcare now, people who have it and stand to lose it, and I don't see how they think that benefits the country."