With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

Posts about Health care

McFadden blasts MNsure insurer pullout as Franken, Obama failure

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: September 17, 2014 - 12:16 PM

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden said the withdrawal of the largest insurer from MNsure, the state’s health care exchange, is evidence of the Affordable Care Act’s failure, blaming President Obama and his opponent, Sen. Al Franken, for enacting what he called a broken system.

PreferredOne was the top-selling insurer on MNsure, but its CEO said they’d be pulling out of the exchange, saying their participation was “not sustainable.” PreferredOne insured six out of 10 MNsure consumers who now will have to seek out other providers and may result in higher healthcare premiums.

“I’m a businessman, and as a businessman I know that when someone provides 60 percent of the market and is the low-cost provider drops out of the program, you’re going to see a significant increase in premiums. This doesn’t work.” McFadden said, pointing to a chart from the Hoover Institution that illustrated the tangle of functions that make up the ACA. “I’m very disappointed in President Obama and Sen. Franken because this program has been based on lies.”

The biggest of all, he said, is that Obama care decreased the cost of insurance in the country. PreferredOne’s withdrawal is proof of that, he argued. However, he said he does not believe the insurance company should be held responsible for leaving MNsure. He remained focused on a system he said could be fixed by a “state-based, market-based, patient-centered” system that allows consumers to buy their insurance across state lines.

Franken spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said that because of the ACA, 95 percent of Minnesotans are now insured, while the state’s uninsured rate has been halved.

“Mike McFadden would repeal the health law and take us back to a time when women were charged more for health coverage simply because they were women, people with preexisting conditions were denied coverage, half the bankruptcies in this country were connected with health care emergencies and young adults couldn't get covered under their parents' plan,” she said in a statement. “Once again, Mike McFadden has proven that he would rather jump at the opportunity to play politics than actually solve problems.”

McFadden made his statements on the day the Franken campaign launched another ad claiming McFadden’s investment firm, Lazard Middle Market, was involved in a merger that moved an American pharmaceutical company to Ireland to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

McFadden called the ad “patently false,” saying his firm did not represent the company that made the inversion, and that Franken praised a similar move by Medtronic to new headquarters in Ireland. However, while Franken praised the move as a potential job-creator, he also said the it "needs careful scrutiny."

McFadden said he said companies leave the country because they lack the tax incentives to stay.

“What this is evidence of is you have a president and a Democratic senator and a Democratic Senate that don’t understand tax policy and haven’t done anything over the last six years to make the United States have a competitive tax climate.” he said.

Johnson blasts Dayton as "incompetent" as top-selling insurer exits MNsure

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: September 16, 2014 - 5:46 PM

Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson blasted Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday for what he called "breathtaking incompetence," after it was revealed that the insurance company that sold more policies on MNsure than any other is pulling out of the exchange. 

MNsure officials confirmed Tuesday that PreferredOne, the choice of nearly six in 10 consumers who have bought plans on the exchange, would no longer participate. Insurers are expected to release their 2015 MNsure rates in early October. 

"Mark Dayton was desperate to be the first governor in the country to implement Obamacare in Minnesota through MNsure," Johnson said at a Capitol news conference. "He got to handpick his board and handpick his staff and it has been an unmitigated disaster since day one." 

Johnson suggested that PreferredOne pulled out because it was offering artificially low rates on its plans under pressure from Dayton's administration. Jeremy Drucker, spokesman for Dayton's re-election campaign, called that ridiculous. 

"Of course, administration officials encouraged insurers on MNsure to provide the lowest rates possible to the people of Minnesota," Drucker said. "However, the companies were solely responsible for the rates they decided to offer." 

Dayton has owned up to MNsure's struggles. He apologized to consumers who struggled to buy coverage through the glitch-ridden website, and earlier this month he called MNsure's troubled launch the single biggest disappointment of his first term as governor. 

Johnson said if elected, his first goal would be winning a federal waiver that would allow Minnesota to pull out of conforming to the Affordable Care Act. If that's not successful, Johnson said, he would seek to replace MNsure's board of directors and its leadership staff. He also said he'd try to increase competition among those companies selling plans on the site. 

Drucker predicted that if Johnson is elected, he would seek changes that undermine MNsure's mission of boosting insurance coverage rates. 

"This would be devastating to Minnesotans," Drucker said.

Johnson hammers on unionization again

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: September 17, 2014 - 1:19 PM

Standing in front of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's temporary Capitol area office, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson said he would try to reverse the massive unionization of child care and home health workers now underway in Minnesota if he became governor.

"I would certainly try," Johnson said. "It would be hard to reverse but not impossible."

Republicans, including Johnson, have long hammered on Dayton and DFLers in the Legislature for approving a measure to allow child care and home health care workers to decide whether to unionize. The resulting unions would negotiate with the state.

The controversial 2013 legislative vote was a top priority for the Service Employees International Union, which is working with home care workers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which works with child care workers.

Last month, home health care workers approved unionization. Child care providers are organizing a unionization vote for next year.

Johnson and anti-unionization activist Jennifer Parrish, a child care businesswoman, both suggested that Dayton's support of unionization was "payback" for union support and contributions during the 2010 election.

Although a quid pro quo of support in exchange for administrative action could be illegal, Johnson said he was not accusing Dayton of any illegal activity.

Jeremy Drucker, spokesman for the Dayton campaign, declined to comment on Johnson's accusation of payback. But he did say the governor believes in child care providers' right to organize.

"Governor Dayton supports giving child care providers the chance to hold an election and decide for themselves whether or not they want to form a union. This right was guaranteed by the U.S. Congress in 1935," Drucker said in a statement.

Dayton, who has been in Minnesota politics for decades, has long been considered union-friendly and during his term and campaign has received significant support from Minnesota unions. He has not always, however, moved in lock step with union interests and before the 2010 primary, many unions supported one of his Democratic opponents.

Jennifer Munt, a spokeswoman for AFSCME, said Johnson position shows he is "against working women."

As to the accusation of "payback," she said "we support candidates who support workers...for us that is our fundamental value."

Updated to remove photo and fix a typo.

Minnesota home care workers vote to unionize

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: August 26, 2014 - 4:03 PM

Minnesota home care workers celebrated Tuesday after voting to unionize in what is widely considered the largest election of its kind in state history.

Of 5,872 ballots cast, 60 percent of home care providers voted to organize the Service Employees International Union. Home care providers and their clients erupted in cheers when the results were announced at the AFL-CIO’s labor pavilion Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

“We have been working towards this day for many years, we’ve seen the stories of the low pay, lack of benefits and training and the low pay facing home care workers,” said home care provider Sumer Spika of St. Paul, who helped organize the effort. “We know what this does to Minnesota families and we know that it needs to change.”

Of nearly 27,000 eligible voters, only 21 percent cast ballots. Opponents say the number who did not vote ‘Yes’ is indicative of the number of providers who did not want a union, and vow to continue a legal challenge to the unionization.

“No one is opposing the right of individual homecare providers to freely associate with the union if they so choose, but the issue raised in this legal challenge is whether those individuals who don’t want anything to do with the union can have it imposed on them.” Said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation in the wake of the election results.  That’s why the providers’ legal challenge to this forced unionism scheme will go forward.”

The vote comes after nine home health care workers sued last month to block the union vote, but a federal judge ruled last week that the plaintiffs could not sue until workers elected to unionize.

Barring the legal challenge, the home care providers’ union will now begin bargaining with the state.


 

State Health Department looks for administrator of medical marijuana program

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: June 2, 2014 - 2:42 PM

The Minnesota Department of Health, which will administer the state's brand new medical marijuana program, is looking to hire someone who can run it. 

The agency posted a job ad at the end of last week for chief administrator of a new division, the Office of Medical Cannabis. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the medical marijuana program into law last week, with an expectation that about 5,000 patients with a range of maladies could have access to compounds of the cannabis plant starting in July 2015.

The words "cannabis" and "marijuana" are interchangeable in reference to the drug, but the plant genus is properly known as cannabis. Many advocates have adopted that word in an attempt to avoid the negative cultural and legal connotations of the word marijuana.

According to the job posting on the state of Minnesota's employment website, the administrator of the Office of Medical Cannabis will be responsible for developing the program's vision and staffing plan, managing its budget, and overseeing the private contractors that will grow and distribute cannabis to patients. Other job duties will include communicating with the governor's office and state lawmakers, law enforcement and the media. 

The administrator will report not directly to the commissioner of health, but rather an assistant commissioner for strategic initiatives. Pay for the position will be between $73,811 and $105,862 annually, according to the job ad, and the state is taking applications through June 20. 

Experts have described Minnesota's fledgling program as unique compared to 21 other medical marijuana programs around the country. Minnesota will be the only state that will prohibit patients from possessing plants and smoking marijuana. Instead, participants will have access to cannabis compounds in oil or liquid forms, and will consent to have their treatment closely monitored by the Department of Health. 

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