By Rep. Joe McDonald
It disappoints me that my first column of 2014 centers on such a sour subject, but it is necessary since so many local citizens are coming to me with huge concerns over failings with Minnesota’s new state-run health insurance program: MNsure.
Gov. Mark Dayton and fellow Democrats have spent more than $150 million in taxpayer money setting up a program that still is faltering greatly nearly four months after its launch. Enrollment is not even meeting worst-case projections and people are having policies canceled they were told they could keep. Security has been breached. Many citizens are seeing their premiums increase. The MNsure head even was fired amid turmoil in the program.
This government-run health insurance is making things worse, not better. Citizens and agents alike are coming to me to express their frustration over health insurance, infuriated over the lack of leadership displayed by people who are supposed to be running this new government arm.
Some people who attempt to sign up for MNsure still encounter seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. A friend told me she and her husband already had spent hours on the MNsure website with an agent getting signed up for insurance and thought all was complete. Then, weeks later, she called her insurance company only to find out there was no record of their policy – even though they'd completed work. She then called MNsure and spent two more hours on the phone, only to get cut off and sent back to Square 1.
I call that UNsure, not MNsure. My friend’s story may be anecdotal, but it also is representative of how poorly MNsure is performing.
Insurance agents also are suffering from headaches over the systemic failure of MNsure. Local agents also have expressed frustration to me over how difficult the government has made it for them to do their job and walk clients through the sign-up process.
I’m sure there are success stories with MNsure, it is just a disproportionately low number compared with the hype we were sold by those who supported government-run health insurance. They were even proud of the fact that “No state is set to embrace (Obamacare) as thoroughly as Minnesota.”
Yet, here we are today. Through Jan. 4, paid enrollment was less than one third MNsure’s April 1 goal. Actual enrollment is even worse compared with the worst-case enrollment scenario provided in the fiscal note associated with this law.
The wider the margin between individual market enrollment projections and actual enrollment, the more likely that MNsure will be facing a severe budget shortfall down the road. The federal government set a goal of 33 percent of all enrollees between ages 18-35. Through Jan. 4, just 20.4 percent of MNsure individual market enrollees were between the ages of 19-35. This could have serious negative impacts for 2015 insurance premiums.
Enrollment issues led to a significant number of people receiving flawed determinations of eligibility for premium subsidies or public programs. That may result in people enrolling in a public program, or using a premium subsidy for a private plan for which they are not eligible.
Because of that, honest, hardworking Minnesotans may actually have to repay money to state or federal government through no fault of their own. That is very unsettling.
It will be interesting to see what transpires over the coming months and years, starting with attempts to fix the ineffective MNsure during the 2014 legislative session. Maybe most concerning is that nobody seems to know how deep MNsure’s problems run. Someone said it best about this MNsure debacle when they said, “They don’t even know what they don’t know.”
How much more is there to this iceberg beneath the surface?