State Rep. Greg Davids has asked Attorney General Lori Swanson to review details of a 2011 contract between MNsure and Dr. Jonathan Gruber, a consultant whose work related to the federal Affordable Care Act has become the subject of controversy.
"In light of troubling remarks by Dr. Gruber and MNsure, I believe that a review of Dr. Gruber's work, and payments made to him, is necessary," Davids, R-Preston, wrote Monday in a letter to Swanson. Davids is a veteran lawmaker and in January is set to resume chairmanship of the powerful House Taxes Committee.
Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology health economist, worked with Minnesota officials in 2011 and 2012 in assessing options for the venture, then in planning stages, that later became MNsure. He earned $340,000 from the contract.
Gruber also advised President Obama during development of the Affordable Care Act. He came under new fire earlier this month when comments he made at a 2013 conference resurfaced, in which he suggested that "the stupidity of the American voter" made it possible for Congress to approve the law. He has since apologized for what he called an off-the-cuff remark.
Davids suggested Swanson should look further into why Gruber's report to the state of Minnesota was delivered later than initially promised. Some of Gruber's enrollment projections for MNsure have since fallen short, and Davids said he also wants to know whether MNsure still considers Gruber's enrollment predictions for future years valid.
A spokesman for Swanson had no immediate comment on David's letter.
(This post has been updated.)
With questions about the state's health exchange and Republican campaign ads swirling, Gov. Mark Dayton dashed from a Thursday afternoon event about housing without taking questions from the waiting press.
Dayton's decision to leave the event through a side door with his staff was unexpected. His staff had indicated he would answer questions from reporters.
It was also unusual. The DFL governor generally makes himself available to the media.
Dayton, who is up for re-election in 12 days, made remarks at the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Housing Awards announcement in St. Paul, listened to comments from two lawmakers and then, about 25 minutes in to the event got up to leave.
His spokesman, Matt Swenson, said the governor said as he left that he would not take questions from the press. Reporters who followed him out of the side door he exited saw his state vehicle exit the building's rear parking lot.
On Thursday, the Star Tribune reported that the Dayton administration had sought lower rates from an insurer that signed up to provide health insurance through MNsure, the state's health exchange. That insurer, PreferredOne, dropped out of the exchange this year.
Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson said Dayton should have stayed to answer questions about that.
"That’s part of the job of the governor whether it is him, me or someone else," Johnson said. He suggested the Dayton administration is panicking over the recent MNsure news.
He pledged that if he were governor, he would not avoid reporters.
"I will never unexpectedly run away from you," he said.
Also Thursday, the Minnesota Republican Party decided to delete the photo of a young boy who died from abuse in a television commercial trashing Dayton. That decision came after pressure from the boy's grandmother.
Thursday afternoon Dayton appeared at a campaign event with former U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton. He was also slated to appear at a fundraiser with the former first lady in the evening.
Photo: The governor's caravan driving away from Thursday's housing event. Source: David Joles, Star Tribune.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken reiterated his stance Thursday that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision that limited access to birth control must be overridden, in a women’s health roundtable in St. Paul that focused largely in the fallout from this summer’s Hobby Lobby ruling.
The ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that requiring corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception violated federal law protecting religious freedom. Franken told the panel of assorted women lawyers, citizens and advocates that it ruling must be overturned.
“This turns on its head the whole notion of freedom of religion,” Franken said. “To me, it’s about the freedom of a woman, in this case, to choose whether she wants to use contraception or not. Because of the (Affordable Care Act) it’s a basic, effective, essential healthcare.”
Franken said he is open to FDA review of making oral contraceptives more accessible to women—a position McFadden has taken. However, he added that the key issue is that it be covered by insurance, not how accessible it may be.
“The issue here isn’t where you get it,” he said. “It’s who pays for it.”
The roundtable included Winnie Williams of Woodbury, a mother of two teenage daughters, one with a benign brain tumor with symptoms treated thorough a specific kind of birth control.
“When I look at this issue, I look at it and say ‘You just told me and my daughter that we might not be able to have control of excessive bleeding, depression, migraines, brain tumors,” she said. “You’re telling me that my employer controls whether I have that as part of my medical care. And that, to me, is just unconscionable.”
McFadden, however, said Franken’s criticism of Republicans on women’s issues an “election year gimmick” in efforts to distract Minnesotans from current issues like Ebola and the ongoing Islamic State threat.
“You’ve seen this play out all across the country. It’s right out of the Democrats’ political guidelines as this is how we try to divide people.” McFadden said.
Franken said Thursday that the roundtable was to address issues important to women and men alike.
“The job of a senator is to pay attention to a lot of things all at one time,” he said.
A political action committee representing Minnesota physicians endorsed Gov. Mark Dayton for re-election on Thursday.
MEDPAC is the political arm of the Minnesota Medical Association. The PAC's board of directors, made up of physicians, decided on the endorsement.
In a news release, the group praised the incumbent Democrat for supporting the group's agenda "on almost every issue." Specifically cited was the budget Dayton signed last year, which restored medical education funding and increased physician payment rates; and Dayton's support for a tobacco tax increase, more money for newborn screening, prohibiting minor access to tanning beds and restrictions on e-cigarettes.
"Dayton has showed time and time again that he supports the MMA's advocacy efforts on behalf of the doctors and patients of the state of Minnesota and for that he deserves our support," said MEDPAC chairman Michael Tedford, an Edina physician.
MEDPAC endorses candidates for office and contributes to the campaigns of endorsed candidates. It's supported by voluntary contributions from its members, and does not receive money from the larger Minnesota Medical Association or its member dues.
After state officials said Wednesday that rates on the MNsure health insurance exchange will increase an average of 4.5 percent, Democrats praised what they called a modest rise while Republicans seized on the figure, calling it "bogus" and "deceptive."
In a short address with reporters, Gov. Mark Dayton said the rise in the average rate was "predominately good news," praising Minnesota for having among the lowest insurance premiums in the country, according to state officials.
State Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R- Eden Prairie, and Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, delivered the response for Republicans. Hann attacked the 4.5 percent figure, arguing that it masks what are larger rate increases for certain plans, participants and regions.
The MNsure rates releases comes hours before Gov. Dayton and GOP challenger Jeff Johnson are set to square off the first gubernatorial debate of the election cycle. In statement, Johnson criticized Dayton for what he called a failure to deliver on a promise that MNsure would decrease the cost of health insurance for middle-class Minnesotans.
"Time and time again, Mark Dayton has failed to deliver on his promises to middle-class Minnesotans," Johnson said. "In fact, the only promises he's kept are the ones he's made to the special interest groups who fund his campaign."
Wednesday's rise in the average rate was no surprise, according to analysts. That's partly because PreferredOne, the Golden Valley-based insurer, announced last month it would leave MNsure and not sell policies for 2015, according to Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. PreferredOne currently offers the lowest-cost options on MNsure.
Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, health insurance experts pointed to other factors also could be driving premium increases. MNsure will withhold a larger share of premiums next year to cover the cost of the exchange. Health costs are growing, in general, and more patients with costly health problems likely will move from a state safety net program to MNsure.