Gov. Mark Dayton is seeking $500,000 for a task force that would consider future options for MNsure including a possible switch to the federal government’s HealthCare.gov website.
Dayton made the pitch in a letter to lawmakers released Monday. It said the task force would also review options for changing the state’s public health insurance programs.
Reverting to the federal exchange is just one of several MNsure reforms being put forward by Republicans at the Capitol, and DFL lawmakers have said the proposal brings new costs without solving problems for the portion of MNsure used in public health insurance programs.
“The launch of MNsure created serious problems for many consumers,” Dayton wrote. “Although we have seen significant improvements, there are still important unresolved issues.”
Rep. Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown and Speaker of the House, said he was skeptical of Dayton’s proposal because the task force wouldn’t provide recommendations until Jan. 1, 2016. The Legislature needs to act more quickly, Daudt said in an interview.
“This is the first time that I’ve really seen the governor suggest that maybe we need to look at going to the federal exchange,” he said. “We’re in session right now. … We can do all of that without spending $500,000 on a task force, and waiting another 10 months.”
But Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said lawmakers don’t have time and information for making an informed decision about going to the federal website during the current session.
On Monday evening, House Republicans held their first committee hearing on a bill for scrapping MNsure and reverting to HealthCare.gov by Jan. 1, 2017. More than 30 states use the federal website for their health exchange, which individuals use to purchase non-group coverage.
“They don’t have pricing, to the best of my knowledge, for what their ideas cost,” Lourey said in an interview. “To talk about it in the construct of a task force is fine. There are a lot of reasons why we decided to go with a state-based exchange.”
The task force proposal is part of Dayton’s supplemental budget, which is scheduled for full release on Tuesday. If the Legislature provides the funding, it would go toward policy, financial and actuarial reports to help craft recommendations.
The task force would consider MNsure’s long-term viability, Dayton wrote, as well as “opportunities for federal waivers” — both apparent references to recent Capitol debates over MNsure.
The exchange’s financial viability has been questioned because MNsure has fallen short of projections for enrollment in private coverage through the exchange.
On waivers, Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, has a bill for seeking a federal waiver so that Minnesotans could receive tax credits to buy private policies directly from insurance companies. Those subsidies currently are available only to MNsure customers, and some MNsure supporters have said they oppose making tax credits available outside the exchange.
In his letter, Dayton said the task force also would consider “post-ACA options,” using the abbreviation for the federal Affordable Care Act.
People use MNsure not only to buy non-group private policies, but also MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance — the state’s health insurance programs for lower income residents. Between Nov. 15 and March 8, more than 183,000 people enrolled in coverage through MNsure, including about 122,000 in public health insurance programs and roughly 61,000 in private plans.
“We need to undertake a comprehensive review of our future options to provide high-quality, affordable health coverage for all Minnesotans,” Dayton wrote.
MNsure critics have had a field day at the Capitol recently, with a lengthy audit in February concluding that failures outweighs achievements during MNsure’s first year of operations. Subsequent hearings have detailed how problems with the MNsure system persist.
Even so, Dayton’s letter notes progress in recent years.
“Today, more Minnesotans have health insurance than ever before, preventive services are available at no cost to insured patients, and sick people can no longer be charged more for their coverage,” Dayton wrote.