Jeff Johnson, the Republican nominee for governor, expanded his attack on Gov. Mark Dayton's record on health insurance and management of MNSure, the state's troubled health insurance exchange.
He appeared at Mack Engineering -- a small Minneapolis manufacturing company of machined components for companies such as John Deere and Honeywell – where co-owner Jennifer Salisbury said her company was experiencing skyrocketing health insurance premiums for the company and its 28 employees.
The company is an example of a small group insurance plan that is not in compliance with Obamacare because it does not meet mandated coverage requirements that are designed to give every person an adequate health plan. The Obama administration offered states more time to get small group plans in compliance, but Minnesota declined so that all employers would be treated the same, rather than having some in compliance and others not. Currently, 75 percent of small group plans are Obamacare-compliant.
Johnson said that by declining the extra time, Dayton had caused undue hardship on small businesses such as Mack Engineering.
“This is another example of Gov. Dayton hurting small businesses and their employees,” he said. “He wouldn’t stand up for the Mack Engineerings of Minnesota.”
Jeremy Drucker, a spokesman for Dayton’s re-election campaign, replied in a statement: “What Commissioner Johnson is proposing is to penalize the majority of Minnesota companies who are now providing improved health care coverage for their employees. They would be socked with higher insurance costs if the minority of employers…were allowed to continue to offer substandard plans.”
Drucker added that the cost increases cited by Johnson are due to improvements, such as requiring more comprehensive coverage and no longer allowing disqualification for pre-existing conditions.
Anne O’Connor, a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department, said an analysis showed that continued noncompliance would increase costs for groups in compliance between 6 and 10 percent. That's because the non-compliant plans would sweep up the healthiest, cheapest customers, thereby increasing costs for everyone else.
Johnson may sense an opening this week on health care related issues as MNSure faced another setback. PreferredOne, which offered the lowest rates and had signed up nearly six out of 10 consumers who shopped on the online marketplace, announced it was pulling out of the exchange, which led to speculation that rates could increase as its customers seek alternative coverage.
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.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday that the Minnesota Vikings should suspend running back Adrian Peterson until accusations of child abuse against him have been resolved in the criminal justice system.
Calling the allegations and their fallout "an awful situation," Dayton said he believes Peterson is innocent until proven guilty and that he deserves due process. But he also called the allegations, that Peterson used a wooden switch to discipline his four-year-old son, "a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the state of Minnesota."
Dayton's remarks came in a statement from his office. The governor was in Washington, D.C., Monday and early Tuesday, raising funds for his re-election campaign.
"Whipping a child to the extent of visible wounds, as has been alleged, should not be tolerated in our state," Dayton said.
Peterson has denied being a child abuser, saying he was using the same disciplinary methods that he experienced as a child. The Vikings had kept Peterson out of Sunday's game, but announced Monday that he would be reinstated and playing next Sunday.
Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Dayton's statement. The DFL governor has worked closely with the team throughout his first term, both as advocate for partial public funding of the new stadium now under construction in downtown Minneapolis, and to help promote a subsequent, successful bid for Minnesota to host the 2018 Super Bowl in that new stadium.
"I will not turn my back on the Vikings and their fans, as some have suggested," Dayton said. "The Vikings belong to Minnesota -- and in Minnesota. This has been the team's only home; and our citizens, including myself, have been its most dedicated fans."
Gov. Mark Dayton is raising campaign cash in Washington this week as he tries to keep a financial advantage over his Republican opponent, Jeff Johnson.
Dayton and running mate Tina Smith traveled to Washington Monday. They're appearing at an evening fundraising reception at a private home, with contributors urged to give $1,000, $500 and $250. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is also appearing at the fundraiser.
Also on Dayton's schedule is a Tuesday morning fundraiser at D.C. lobbying firm Forbes-Tate, also with Klobuchar in tow. That one has higher suggested donations of $2,000, $1,000 or $500.
Throughout the summer Dayton maintained a significant fundraising advantage over Johnson, whose primary campaign left him with little money in the bank by mid-August. Johnson has said he's spent large amount of times on fundraising since then.
The next snapshot of the candidates' fundraising progress comes at the end of September, which will give a sense of whether Johnson has made any progress toward closing the gap.
Johnson campaigned in southwestern Minnesota on Monday morning, including at several events with his primary opponent Marty Seifert.
The Minnesota DFL Party is releasing a television ad hamming Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson on education.
The ad is part of $1 million ad campaign the party is planning to support DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's re-election.
The DFL's television campaign is one of the largest so far in the low-profile governor's race.
Dayton has reserved ad time for later this month. Johnson, whose campaign has had less money in the bank, said over the weekend that he hopes to be on the air as well by the end of the this month.
The DFL ad gives the appearance of a positive ad, featuring happy music and parents talking about education, but attacks Johnson largely on decade-old votes he took in the Legislature and praises Dayton.
"It seems like schools are not Jeff Johnson's priority," Jennifer Nelson, a teacher who is clearly pregnant, says in the ad.
Johnson, who is now a Hennepin County commissioner, served in the Minnesota House from 2001 to 2006. When he first joined the Legislature he had said that education was one of his top priorities.
It still is a top priority, Johnson communications director Jeff Bakken said.
"Unlike Mark Dayton, Jeff was educated entirely in Minnesota public schools and his kids are being educated entirely in Minnesota public schools," Bakken said. "Jeff repeatedly voted to increase education funding as a legislator. Like most Minnesotans, Jeff also knows that there is a lot more to education than just spending."
Earlier this month, big spending Alliance for a Better Minnesota also released a television ad hammering the Republican candidate on education.
That the two Democratic groups picked the same issue to blast over the airwaves should be no surprise.
For years, Democrats have participated in a polling and research consortium, called Project Lakes and Plains, that allows them to share information.
The result is they read from the same playbook and that playbook says in the midterm election that Minnesota voters care deeply about education issues. By July, Minnesota Democratic campaigns had paid Project Lakes and Plains nearly $200,000.
It is not clear whether the Minnesota Republican Party, which is still recovering from a previous administration's debt, will run any television ads this year on Johnson's behalf.
Last week, Republican Party spokesman Brittni Palke, said: "The MNGOP will not be announcing an ad buy." But did not clarify whether that statement means the party would not announce an ad buy in advance or would not make an ad buy this year.
Here's the new DFL ad:
Data editor Glenn Howatt contributed to this report.