Many people see the start of a new year as a time for celebration as we start fresh and look ahead. However, for many families, 2016 also marks the start of higher health care costs, thanks to the broken promises of MNsure and the so-called Affordable Care Act.
As a member of the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee and chair of the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee, I'm frequently contacted by Minnesotans who share heartbreaking stories about MNsure and how it has impacted their families and pocketbooks.
I've heard stories of families who can no longer afford their health plan after massive premium increases. Thousands of new parents have had to endure a broken and frustrating system, forced to waste precious hours and wait months just to add their newborn to their health plan.
In some cases, families have decided it's easier for one spouse to quit his or her job and reduce their family income in order to qualify for assistance in paying monthly premiums. Despite the lowest unemployment rate in years, more Minnesotans are on public health programs than ever.
Late last month, MNsure's latest CEO, Allison O'Toole, admitted in "The ACA: Trending up" (Dec 27) what legislators already knew: MNsure's website is still failing to deliver basic services and functions that were promised when it was first created. They remain unfixed to this day.
By July, the total cost of MNsure will reach $364 million for a failing website. Repairing broken components and completing the buildout of MNsure's IT system will cost tens of millions more. If MNsure ever works as originally promised, it will still cost over $60 million per year to run.
Instead of blaming their customers, MNsure must take responsibility for these problems and fix them. Glitches and technical errors are mere inconveniences for MNsure executives with six-figure salaries and taxpayer-funded bonuses, but they mean real headaches for families who struggle each day to simply keep their doctor or get coverage for their newborn.
MNsure claims that its tax credits shield some Minnesotans from insurance prices that have doubled or tripled in the past two years. But that is cold comfort for the 80 percent of those Minnesotans who buy insurance on their own who don't receive a tax credit. It also does nothing to remedy individual or family deductibles, which are now the most expensive in the nation.
The reality lawmakers hear about on an almost-daily basis is clear: MNsure is hurting Minnesota families, and taxpayers remain on the hook for a government boondoggle program that will be unable to sustain itself financially any time soon.
Last session, House Republicans offered meaningful reforms aimed at making life a little easier for families finding that the Affordable Care Act is not living up to its promises. We passed bipartisan legislation signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton that requires seeking a federal waiver to let Minnesotans get the premium tax credit while shopping wherever is most convenient for them. This waiver would open up more health care choices to Minnesotans who might prefer plans that aren't sold on the MNsure exchange.
Second, Republicans proposed eliminating MNsure and transitioning to the federal exchange. This would save taxpayers over $17 million per year and prevent taxpayers from being on the hook for hundreds of millions in additional website fixes.
Finally, House Republicans led the charge for increased oversight and other reforms to ensure that tax dollars are being spent wisely and that MNsure is conducting itself in a transparent manner and that it is able to be held accountable for mistakes.
In this new year, both parties should resolve to finally admit that MNsure and the Affordable Care Act are not living up to the many promises made when they were created. It's going to take major reforms at the state and federal level to finally rein in the cost of health care and increase choice. I hope Dayton and my Democrat colleagues are ready to do their part to move health care in Minnesota in the right direction.
Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, is a member of the Minnesota House.