Editorial counterpoint: Action, not patience, is needed to fix DHS problems

  • Article by: GREG DAVIDS
  • Updated: July 18, 2014 - 6:20 PM

Besides exposing 16,000 Minnesotans to Obamacare fines, the department is generally fouled up, and the governor won’t see it.

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In its July 13 editorial on the failure of the Minnesota Department of Human Services to guide low-income Minnesotans through the Affordable Care Act rollout (“No accountability for DHS snafu?”), the Star Tribune suggested that by asking Gov. Mark Dayton for solutions and accountability, I engaged in “reckless fear-mongering.”

Predictably, the Editorial Board’s solution is more time and more taxpayer money on the broken MNsure and DHS websites.

The DHS error left 16,000 applications for Medicaid on MNsure stuck in the state’s computer systems for months, a situation that the agency’s staffers either didn’t realize or neglected to handle promptly. That could have left the applicants without health insurance.

The Editorial Board focused on my argument that the error by DHS exposes low-income people to Obamacare fines for not having insurance. The reality is that if you make enough to file taxes ($10,000 for individuals under 65), then you are subject to the penalty. That means a sliver of those eligible for Medical Assistance, and most of those eligible for MinnesotaCare, will be subject to penalization unless they fit into a narrow exemption. This year, the minimum penalty is $95 per person, or $285 for a household of four.

When Republicans in the Minnesota House offered an amendment that would allow those who are unfairly penalized to seek reimbursement through a tax credit, Democrats called those people lawbreakers.

DHS and MNsure are simply shrugging their shoulders at the problem.

“It’s not MNsure’s job to send the notices,” said one of many highly paid MNsure spokespersons. Part of the DHS response was that the mistake was “not made by a DHS employee, so we can’t answer that one.”

Under Dayton’s watch, DHS has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. In 2012, allegations of employee mistreatment at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter forced the resignation of its director and an assistant commissioner. In August 2013, a “bureaucratic lapse” at the hospital resulted in a violent sex offender being dumped on a Minneapolis street corner.

This year, a DHS employee was alleged to have improperly shredded the “fantasy logs” of a serial rapist being treated by the state’s sex offender program. And, more recently, allegations of retaliation against a whistleblower by DHS executives cost hardworking taxpayers nearly $300,000.

Why isn’t the governor connecting the dots? Any of these events should have spurred him to order a top-to-­bottom review of DHS. Instead, the former assistant commissioner involved in the St. Peter fiasco got a $326,000 grant from MNsure, and the former assistant at the heart of the retaliation allegations is now MNsure’s CEO.

Like the majority of Minnesotans, I’m concerned about the damage Obamacare has caused to Minnesota’s nation-leading health care system.

But we live with the reality that Dayton and the DFLers in control of the Legislature are all in on Obamacare.

For more than a year, my colleagues and I have offered helpful solutions and constructive criticism to MNsure on many things, from data privacy to communicating our constituents’ problems with the failed website. Very few have been heeded, and the results keep getting worse.

As a legislator, I have a duty to protect the well-being of my constituents. I hope readers will forgive my fear that if Dayton continues to ignore this obvious incompetence, it could cost Minnesotans their health, welfare and safety.

 

Greg Davids, R-Preston, is a member of the Minnesota House.

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