A young father and small-business owner. A General Mills vice president. A doctor who took care of expectant moms in a small central Minnesota community.
The Fond du Lac reservation’s longtime director of human services. The former general counsel of UnitedHealthcare. And, an independent consultant who has negotiated union benefits but who also has been tapped by a Republican governor and industry to serve on health care boards and commissions.
Over the past week, Minnesotans learned the names and impressive backgrounds of the six citizens appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to oversee a key component of federal health reform — the state’s online health insurance exchange — during its launch and inaugural years of operation.
Nearly one in five Minnesotans are expected to obtain their health care insurance through this new marketplace, now known as MNsure, after it begins operation this fall. While this page is less than enthusiastic about the new moniker — too similar to the name of a popular health drink for the elderly — Dayton’s capable choices inspire confidence.
The Minnesotans entrusted to guide the board into existence may not be household names, but they bring with them multifaceted expertise and real-world perspectives. This homegrown insurance exchange should have the strong leadership it needs to weather the critical startup phase.
The exchange’s seven-member board of directors also includes Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who is required by state law to serve or have a designee do so.
The most-pressing challenges for the new board: getting through snags inherent in any website launch and winning over consumers and small businesses reluctant to use the state exchange because of the Affordable Care Act’s toxic politics. The exchange initially will serve small businesses and individuals who purchase coverage on their own. It also will determine buyers’ eligibility for tax credits to offset coverage costs.
High-profile criticism heard last week after Dayton named the appointees — that small businesses and consumers are inadequately represented — is off-base.
Minnesota’s new health exchange board has relatively few members compared with other states. The legislation passed by Minnesota lawmakers in March to enable the exchange not only limited Dayton to appointing six citizen members but was tightly prescriptive on who could serve, in part to prevent health care industry conflicts of interest. More than 100 Minnesotans applied for the spots, which pay $30,000 a year.
Dayton pragmatically chose people who brought not just one set of skills to the board but two or even three areas of expertise. His choices also have extensive experience on boards.
Dr. Kathryn Duevel, an obstetrician and gynecologist who retired from her Willmar practice last June, also has a master’s degree in health care delivery from Dartmouth College. Tom Forsythe is not only General Mills’ vice president of global communications — an area of expertise that will be needed during the exchange’s startup bumps — but he’s also been a prominent business advocate for reforming health insurance purchasing.
Small employers are especially well-represented by two members. Brian Beutner, the former United Healthcare counsel, is a former CEO of a health software company who now works with health care startups. Thompson Aderinkomi, a 32-year-old father of one, has founded several health care technology companies and also owns a salon.
Aderinkomi, who runs RetraceHealth out of his northeast Minneapolis home, will also be a forceful consumer advocate. He has bought on the individual market for three years and currently pays $390 in monthly premiums for a high-deductible health plan. He and his wife would like to have another child but are daunted by insurance costs.
“Can you afford to have another kid when you have a $7,500 deductible?” said Aderinkomi, who hopes his exchange work will lead to more-affordable coverage for himself and others.
The exchange board will begin meeting this month. A difficult task at the top of the agenda: selecting the plans to be offered on the exchange.
While we wish that Dayton had chosen an academic with expertise in health economics and finance as part of the board — Stephen Parente of the University of Minnesota would have been our top choice — the governor assembled a promising and bipartisan group. It’s not quite the “team of rivals” this page pushed for, but Dayton prioritized competence over politics.
That should help reassure exchange skeptics. This board is a pragmatic, hardworking group that will push to improve the current system, not choose to give it an ideologically based makeover.