Minnesota Political Hotdish: MNsure intensifies political fight

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 21, 2013 - 5:08 PM
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Brian Beutner, MNsure chairman, and Interim CEO Scott Leitz spoke at a press conference on Wednesday.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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The deeply partisan debate surrounding the MNsure rollout continues to intensify in Minnesota and beyond.

The abrupt resignation and replacement of MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov after a long list of delays and problems did nothing to slow the political storm last week.

Republicans have been trying to tie the problems to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton as they ramp up their own campaigns to defeat him in 2014.

The latest political punch came Friday when state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, urged Dayton to call a special legislative session to deal with the latest wave of problems at MNsure.

“Minnesotans are heading into the holiday week feeling unsure about MNsure,” said Housley, who has been gaining buzz around a possible gubernatorial run. “While I did not support the creating of MNsure, it is the law in Minnesota. I will not sit idly by while Minnesotans suffer because a bloated, unelected bureaucracy has failed.”

She did not offer concrete solutions for legislators to consider.

Dayton is not likely to call a special session that probably would serve only as a replay of the rancorous battle over implementing Minnesota’s version of President Obama’s health care overhaul. Dayton and Democrats have been critical of the problems but say they remain convinced that the program will ultimately be a success.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson called for the resignations of the co-chairmen of the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee: Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, and Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick.

“Abysmal failure,” said Johnson, a Hennepin County Board member. “There’s no other way to accurately describe the performance of the co-chairs charged with leading legislative oversight of Minnesota’s insurance exchange.”

Rather than resign, Atkins is holding a hearing, offering Republicans a chance to help make MNsure work better.

“Representative Atkins is interested in looking forward and working to improve MNsure and make it successful for Minnesotans,” House DFL spokesman Mike Howard said.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, is pressing interim MNsure CEO Scott Leitz to produce a raft of information about MNsure’s budget, staff size and salaries.

Minnesota’s health insurance exchange rollout has actually gone more smoothly than those in other states. While Republicans increased their criticism over the latest problems, the White House sent out a memo last week touting the successes in Minnesota. The White House is trying to make the case that repealing the Affordable Care Act would have grave consequences in the state.

According to the White House, 1.4 million Minnesotans on private insurance have gained coverage for preventive services such as mammograms, birth control or immunizations. About 2.3 million Minnesotans with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, cancer or diabetes no longer can be denied coverage or face higher premiums because of their health status.

The word out of the White House mirrors much of what Dayton and DFLers have been saying for months.

“Moving forward, the president and Democrats in Congress are committed to improving the health care law and fixing it when the need arises,” a White House spokesman said. “Every day more uninsured Americans are signing up for plans as the website gets faster and more people with insurance are benefiting from the law.”

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