It only takes a few minutes to check Barb Stonebraker’s birth certificate and passport to confirm it. Affirmative—the Victoria resident is a U.S. citizen, born and raised in Hennepin County.
Now if only she could convince MNsure.
A week ago I posted Barb’s story online as a case study into the quirks of Minnesota’s state exchange. Anyone watching her click through the MNsure website can see she’s virtually as familiar with the options and obstacles as the official “navigators” paid to do it. Not that it’s done her much good yet.
At the last stage of the process Stonebraker still gets booted off the system. An un-user friendly prompt pops up and logs her off for security reasons after nagging her for allegedly leaving the window “idle for a long period of time.” The suggested solution on the screen? Do it all over again.
In fact, the 61 year old applicant never knew her citizenship status was the problem until MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov broke the news last week in a personal phone call responding to numerous SOS emails. The problem appears connected to the federal data hub’s difficulties in sorting through duplicate applications the system churned out early on in October. Nice of MNsure’s top official to call, but you have to wonder how many hundreds or thousands of similar calls could be placed.
This week, Stonebraker said she spent 41 minutes on hold with the MNsure help desk over two new error messages before being informed the server was down at the time. She went right to the top again, pleading her case this time with Brian Beutner, MNsure board chairman.
Twenty minutes later, Barb came away with the hope, if not necessarily expectation, that the I.T. problems will be resolved in time for her to receive and submit an invoice for a new Health Partners plan to kick in. If not, Mr. Beutner can expect another SOS from Victoria.
It’s a case that’s risen to the nation’s highest court with an important bearing on Minnesota and implications for here and across the country. Yet it failed to make the docket of blockbuster cases published by most of the media earlier this month just before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013-14 term got underway—except for Reuters.
Harris v. Quinn squeaked in at the last minute, just days before the new term. The Illinois case focuses on whether personal care attendants who help Medicaid recipients can be required to accept union representation in negotiations with the state and forced to pay “fair-share” fees in lieu of union dues. $3.6 million annually from more than 20,000 PCAs in Illinois alone, according to court documents.
Sound familiar? The case was cited by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals as the reason for suspending Minnesota’s controversial child care provider union election, due to the potential ramifications of the Supreme Court justices’ decision.
“This is a case that is really under the radar, nobody knows how big of a deal it is. So many in the media don’t even know this is happening,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester day care provider named in the Minnesota case and one of the lucky few who will be in the Supreme Court chamber on the still—TBA day of the Harris hearing.
Not surprisingly the potential import of the surprise selection registered more immediately with organized labor.
“There is a long legacy of previous Supreme Court decisions finding that “fair share fees” – reduced fees that unions charge to non-members to represent them in collective bargaining – are fully constitutional. If the Supreme Court rules any differently in the Harris case, it will abandon a position it has established and reinforced repeatedly,” according to a SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana statement.
Much more could be on the line than hundreds of millions of dollars in dues and fees, according to Reuters.
Attorneys say the questions presented in the case are nearly identical to those in the 1977 Supreme Court case that set that standard, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. The justices hinted in 2012 in the last union case the court heard, Knox v. SEIU, that they may be willing to reconsider whether the compelled payment of union dues infringes on free speech.
"Knox put into serious question whether Abood is still good law," said Marquette University law professor Paul Secunda. "Harris might be the vehicle for overruling Abood, making it more difficult for public unions to raise dues." –Workers and Employers Face Off at U.S. Supreme Court, Reuters, October 4, 2013.
Responding to last week’s rejection of its appeal to lift the Minnesota union election suspension, an AFSCME flyer said “this temporary bump in the road won’t derail our plans.”
Unless an Appeals Court bump turns into a Supreme Court barricade.
Given the glitches accompanying the first week rollout, many continue to be uncertain how a state health exchange some branded MN-UNsure and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will work, much less affect their families and finances.
Yet one key constituency whose support proved critical in passing health care reform has seen enough to issue a candid prognosis that the ACA’s cure may be worse than the disease for its members—truck drivers, masons, electrical workers, among many other unions.
“More Affordable Care Act (ACA) deadlines are quickly approaching, there are many unanswered questions,” said Doug Rubbelke, a top national labor health care official and executive director of the Upper Midwest Labor Management Health Care Coalition (LMHCC) in an email response.
The Twin Cities-based “multi-employer health fund” pools the resources collectively bargained by some 50 union locals to leverage high quality health benefits at an affordable cost for 187,000 members and dependents in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
But look for those “Cadillac plans” to be on the table as union contracts come up for renewal--unaffordable or at least uneconomical for many employers because of a 40 percent ACA penalty on high end coverage. The penalty kicks in in 2018, but the impact starts now.
“It is important to know when your CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) expires, because workers under CBAs expiring within the next two years are most at risk for changes in coverage,” said Rubbelke.
No chance of subsidized MNsure coverage either. “If workers go on the exchange when offered employer coverage that is affordable and covers Essential Health Benefits, they will not receive a subsidy because they have an offer of employer coverage that fits the ACA,” said Rubbelke.
Meantime, non-union employers whose workers obtain subsidized coverage on state exchanges could gain a competitive advantage in bidding for projects. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from taxes for failing to provide medical coverage, while companies with fewer than 25 full-time workers can qualify for tax credits.
“Employers that have done the right thing, traditionally, by providing health coverage are now finding that their competitors can push their work forces to the exchanges and the employees receive subsidies,” said Rubbelke.
The “pay or play” tax penalties for employers who don't provide coverage are so weak "many will simply pay the penalty and be done with health insurance altogether." If anything, it appears many union members and their families will pay because big labor decided to play.
The magnum opus breakdown between the Minnesota Orchestra and musicians continues to be a performance for the ages as the longest playing labor dispute for a major US symphony.
As it turns out, however, the Minnesota Orchestra’s now-cancelled Carnegie Hall concerts were evidently more in jeopardy all along than realized. Last night members of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, AKA stagehands, went on strike and shut down “America’s flagship concert hall” for the first time in its 122 year old history, bringing down the curtain before it ever went up on a gala fundraiser and concert.
Besides the Carnegie cancellation being the tipping point that led conductor Osmo Vanska to resign his post,what does yesterday's scratched performance on Manhattan's main stage have to do with the Minnesota Orchestra’s standoff with Twin Cities Music Union Local 30-73?
It’s another window into a world stereotyped by black ties and jewels that’s always been challenging for a lot of folks to identify with. It’s not getting any easier, as more details emerge about contracts and compensation well into six figures and plenty of perks compared to most 9-to-5 occupations.
Take it away, New York Times: “They are among the highest-paid performers at Carnegie Hall, even though they do not play a note: they are the stagehands of Local 1, whose average total compensation of more than $400,000 a year is more than some of the hall’s top executives earn. Little happens on Carnegie’s stages without them.”
The Minnesota Orchestra’s labor lockout made a guest appearance in a Times overview that went beyond the details of Carnegie’s payroll showing stagehands to be paid more overall than the organization’s finance director.
So did other developments in what the Times called “an extraordinary week that underscored the perils facing classical music in America in the 21st century.” Cue the New York City Opera, which just declared bankruptcy and dissolution after a run of seven decades. And instead of a Carnegie celebration with the Philadelphia Orchestra over its recent return from bankruptcy, the symphony stayed home and performed for free.
The stagehand strike at Carnegie Hall involves the staffing needs of a $230 million expansion project, much different than the issues at hand here. Still both impasses have dragged on for more than a year. In the creative world there appears to be a need for a new appreciation of an all but lost art form –the art of negotiation.
Finally just what the doctor ordered for the state’s beleaguered MNsure health insurance exchange—good news following an onslaught of criticism and a serious systemic failure that received national attention for all the wrong reasons.
It’s not the band-aid apology issued at the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee hearing yesterday by Senator Tony Lourey (rather than the responsible officials) for the breach of 1,500 insurance brokers’ Social Security numbers by a MNsure employee.
Nor the surgical “state of the art” data privacy protocols that Minnesota I.T. officials promised apprehensive legislators will safeguard against further breaches with the October 1 start-up of the $110 million online exchange.
Ditto for today’s clinical letter to Gov. Dayton by four GOP oversight committee members criticizing “an ever-growing culture of unresponsiveness and secrecy” in MNsure. The legislators pressed MNsure to “confirm pursuant to the enacting legislation it has prepared a chart detailing each of its employees’ level of access to the personal, private data collected and stored by the new state agency. MNsure should provide this document immediately to the oversight committee.”
The good news comes in the form of national recognition for MNsure’s $9 million marketing campaign featuring Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Time magazine has awarded MNsure the prize not for the most secure online exchange but for “Best Use of a Folk Hero” among state marketing blitzes.
The folksy ads do not deal with why data loss prevention counter measures weren’t in place prior to employees having access to sensitive personal information, being able to download it to an individual workstation and disseminate unencrypted files externally.
Instead, as the magazine points out, Paul Bunyan gets into accidental situations in everyday life where “things go terribly wrong” and he needs help fast. Sound familiar? In the ads, Babe the Blue Ox steps in to triage the situation and rescue Paul.
With just days remaining to the official unveiling of MNsure exchange, a campaign saturating Minnesota’s airwaves with Paul and Babe ads might be just what the doctor ordered.