The Office of the Legislative Auditor last week confirmed what we already knew: that MNsure — Minnesota’s Obamacare implementation — has wasted huge amounts of money for a system that still doesn’t work, in a bureaucratic scheme that will never pay for itself.

In the face of the report’s overwhelming evidence, MNsure advocates propose sticking with it.

Republicans, on the other hand, are proposing changes that will actually make a difference. The goal: provide more insurance choices, at a lower cost, without the wasteful spending on the ill-conceived and broken MNsure bureaucracy.

The Star Tribune’s Feb. 22 editorial (“A nonpartisan look at MNsure’s lapses”) implied that the Republican response to the legislative auditor’s report was reactionary. The truth is that Republicans have been proposing health care solutions for years. In light of the legislative auditor’s scathing critique, these solutions are needed now more than ever.

After two years and nearly $200 million:

• MNsure’s implementation remains seriously flawed and customer service is still poor.

• The state’s consultant is suggesting a complete replacement of MNsure’s core technology system at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

• 91 percent of the enrollees for which MNsure takes credit actually signed up for existing government insurance programs, MinnesotaCare and Medicaid, not the MNsure exchange’s private coverages.

• Enrollments in MNsure’s private coverages are a fraction of original projections.

• MNsure requires massive subsidies from both state and county taxpayers.

• Promises regarding costs and keeping plans and doctors were broken, and implementation problems were hidden.

These are telltale signs of program failure. Yet Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal is, once again, more money. That’s right, on top of a one-time $39 million federal bailout for MNsure this year, the Dayton administration is proposing a $12-million-per-year increase in the already far-too-high Minnesota taxpayer subsidy.

MNsure’s insolvency will only get worse as federal subsidies expire in 2016 and MNsure becomes entirely dependent on state and county taxpayers. In contrast, Republican solutions propose a redesign that will work within the policy framework of Obamacare, in spite of our opposition to it.

Short of federal action changing Obamacare, these workable strategies would improve access, choice and cost in Minnesota:

• Only 9 percent of MNsure enrollees actually bought the private coverages, and these enrollees don’t need MNsure’s failed technology to find their insurance. H.F. 5, authored by Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, proposes waivers allowing enrollees to take their government subsidy to private-sector insurance exchanges, which already offer Obamacare-compliant private coverages and work perfectly. We should free these MNsure-locked customers to shop wherever they want! Using the federal exchange could also be evaluated.

• The 91 percent enrolled in government’s MinnesotaCare and Medicaid programs, which have been available for years, were enrolled through the regular process and systems at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). They can continue to be. These enrollees do not need MNsure to get their coverage either!

• Shut down the unnecessary MNsure bureaucracy and operations. S.F. 810, authored by Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, proposes an alternative nonprofit structure to manage Obamacare coverages, much like the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association operated successfully.

• Evaluate whether any components of MNsure’s technology or operations could be salvaged by the DHS to improve the enrollment process for MinnesotaCare and Medicaid. If not, shut them down altogether.

Even without changes to Obamacare, this Republican strategy of common sense and consumer choice means coverage options stay the same, service improves and taxpayers save tens of millions of dollars per year!

The Star Tribune Editorial Board did readers a disservice by dismissing outright the well-considered and realistic Republican solutions being proposed, especially in the absence of any serious proposal from MNsure’s advocates.

Let’s face facts. Two years and nearly $200 million dollars later, MNsure still doesn’t work right or pay for itself. Whether you support Obamacare or not, it is past time to cut our losses on MNsure and provide real health insurance improvements and cost control. That’s not reactionary, that’s good government.

 

Keith Downey is chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.