Your Turn: Now is the time to fix MNsure problems

St. Cloud Times
by Tama Theis

Deadlines are looming under the Affordable Care Act, and the Legislature is choosing to ignore MNsure this session instead of fixing the plethora of problems and headaches it has caused thousands of Minnesotans.

March 31 is the deadline to have insurance under the ACA. After that, the IRS will charge a penalty to anyone uninsured. This is extremely concerning, as I am still hearing from constituents struggling to get insured through the massive, ineffective bureaucracy that is MNsure.

Hours-long call waiting, crashing websites, duplicative applications and a lack of communication between MNsure, the Department of Human Services and private insurers means many Minnesotans are left in limbo and unsure of their status in the system. Things are improving since its initial launch, but not fast enough.

And for many of those fortunate enough to have made it through the MNsure process, they are faced with higher costs, larger deductibles or both.

It is reassuring to hear some have seen their monthly health insurance costs go down with tax credits. However, their deductibles are often still extremely high, $10,000 or more. This is unaffordable for many.

Before the ACA, Minnesota was a top-ranked state for health care quality and coverage. In 2011, 91 percent of Minnesotans were insured, and of the 9 percent uninsured more than three-fourths had potential access to coverage through public assistance programs or employer coverage.

That means that for the $150 million we spent to build the MNsure exchange, the state is paying to cover about 112,000 people who did not have access to coverage before. This is an extremely high cost for a very small number of people.

And when we talk about a small number of people, we could just as easily be referring to MNsure sign-up.

As of March 8, MNsure claims that 33,680 are in the process of enrolling in commercial plans — 80 percent below the “low scenario” expectations that were in place when MNsure was passed into law last year. Even more alarming is that 33,680 may be too high an estimate.

The premium tax revenue on health insurance is MNsure’s main funding source in 2015 and beyond to run the exchange. With such low enrollment, I am concerned MNsure will return to the Legislature for additional funding and premiums will rise. Taxpayers should not be picking up the tab for an ineffective, failed insurance exchange thrust on us by Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL.

The Legislature is calling this year an “unsession” to fix the mistakes, repealing unnecessary laws and making improvements. MNsure needs serious fixing and should not be ignored any longer.

I am encouraging my colleagues to make our system more efficient and economical for Minnesota consumers and taxpayers.

This is the opinion of Rep. Tama Theis, a St. Cloud resident who represents House District 14A. Theis can be reached by phone at 651-296-6316. She also can be contacted via email at rep.tama.theis@house.mn, or via mail at 223 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.