Here is an update from the Capitol.
Legislative Auditor Releases MNsure Report
Last week, the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released a nonpartisan report on MNsure, saying the exchange’s “failures outweighed its achievements.” This is disappointing for the thousands of Minnesotans who enrolled for insurance through MNsure as well as for the taxpayers who spent $189 million to build it.
When Governor Dayton and the Democrat-led legislature passed MNsure legislation in 2013, Minnesotans were promised an easy-to-use website that offered people affordable insurance. Instead, OLA found that three-fourths of enrollees in MNsure experienced serious technical problems, and nearly 60 percent of enrollees spent at least four hours trying to sign up. That is not the easy or efficient process we were promised.
For those unable to navigate or complete the process through the broken website, help from a live person apparently wasn’t much better. OLA reported that customer service employees and MNsure navigators did not receive the proper training to help customers through a wide array of problems that they faced during open enrollment. What’s more, for the first eleven months after MNsure was launched, one in three calls to the help center were simply abandoned. It’s unfortunate that this is what your tax dollars paid for.
OLA also reported that MNsure had serious errors in their enrollment estimates that were never publically corrected, meaning MNsure leaders misled Minnesotans with the claim that they met enrollment targets. In fact, with public program signups far outpacing commercial plan enrollment, MNsure’s funding is unstable going forward. They have already raised the tax on private plans to 3.5 percent, the highest rate allowed by state law, taking more money out of the family budget to cover their operating costs. Governor Dayton has asked the legislature for more money this session to cover MNsure’s budget shortfall.
But with $26,000 in bonuses given to MNsure’s executives after MNsure’s disastrous rollout and another $125,000 in compensation increases in 2014, Minnesotans need to pay close attention about what their taxpayer investment in MNsure is really going toward.
OLA made several recommendations on ways to improve MNsure, and I am hopeful the legislature and Governor Dayton can pass some of these reforms into law. While many including myself don’t agree with Obamacare, MNsure is a reality in Minnesota and it’s time for state leaders to stop playing politics with this massive, expensive health care exchange. House Republicans have brought forward several solutions already this session, and we must work together to bring accountability to MNsure.
Student Loan Debt Counseling Bill
Last week in the Higher Education Committee, we heard a bill that I'm authoring, HF 952. This bill funds a pilot program through a competitive grant awarded by the Office of Higher Education. A non-profit organization would provide student loan debt counseling to individuals who are delinquent on their loan payments. The goal is to avoid going into default which has negative effects on employment, housing and credit access.
At any given time, 24,000 Minnesotans are in delinquency of their loans.
Trained and certified loan counselors would target those that are 30 to 60 days delinquent to help them examine their total financial health and develop an action plan. Counselors would be available to help individuals in multiple locations in both rural communities and the Twin Cities.
Retired Office of Higher Education employee Tricia Grimes and Cate Rysavy from the Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota came to testify on behalf of my bill.
HF 952 has strong bipartisan support, and has been laid over for possible inclusion in the Higher Education Omnibus Bill which will be put together and passed out of committee later this session.
As always, please feel free to contact me about any state legislative issue. You can e-mail at Rep.Marion.ONeill@House.MN or call my office at 651-296-5063. You can also write a letter to me. My office address at the Capitol is 549 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.