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House health committee throws in towel on MNsure

Chuck Dunker shows photos of his wife, Gail, who died of cancer on Jan. 9, 2015, during testimony for a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Dean, left, to require Minnesota to transition to a federally facilitated health insurance exchange. Photo by Andrew VonBank

After two years and more than $200 million in state and federal startup costs, Minnesota should stop spending money on fixing a sinking ship, said Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood).

He’s ready to throw in the towel on the “beguiled” MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange where low-income residents shop for subsidized public health care in an online marketplace.

HF1664, which Dean sponsors, would transition Minnesota health care shoppers to using the federal website beginning with 2017 enrollments. The House Health and Human Services Reform Committee voted 12-8 on a roll-call vote along party lines to approve the bill as amended and referred it to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. The bill lacks a Senate companion.

“At some point, you have to say, ‘When is enough, enough?’” Dean said.

For Chuck Dunker of Jackson, three months was not enough. His wife, Gail, a breast cancer survivor, found that her private policy increased dramatically after surgery, so in 2013 she went online to shop for a more affordable policy through MNsure.

She experienced months of crashed websites, paper applications and doctor’s appointments requiring upfront payments because they hadn’t received their insurance cards. Then last October, her symptoms returned. She went through appeals and refusals to treat her recurring cancer. Then in January, she was declared disabled and eligible for Medicaid, but she died from cancer Jan. 9.

“While MNsure was jerking our chain, that’s what happened,” Dunker said as he shared photos of his wife to the committee.

Alice Flowers of Apple Valley told members that after losing her job and not being able to afford COBRA insurance, she successfully enrolled in affordable insurance through MNsure.

Minnesota is one of 14 states operating its own health care exchange, in which the marketplace website is maintained by the state. Others include California, Colorado, New York and Washington, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Oregon lawmakers dissolved their health exchange 10 days ago.

Consumers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin apply for and enroll in coverage through the federal website.

“What benefit are we getting that Wisconsin isn’t?” Dean asked. “That’s what I want to know.”

The bill was amended to add a contingency clause based on the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding advanced premium tax credits.

Gov. Mark Dayton sent a letter to legislative leaders today asking that a task force be organized to analyze MNsure’s future, with all options on the table, including reverting to the federal exchange and further reforms to the state’s purchasing practices. He plans to include $500,000 in his supplemental budget “to support policy, financial and actuarial analyses at the direction of the Task Force.”

Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Mpls) said even though there were startup issues, more uninsured people obtained coverage. She said moving to a federally operated exchange could result in higher prices for consumers. With or without MNsure, the state still needs to make a major investment in upgrading its technology infrastructure for determining eligibility, she added.

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