Commentary: Health exchange falling short

Eden Prairie News
by Jenifer Loon

News out of Washington regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is almost non-stop. From low enrollment numbers to a malfunctioning website to broken promises by President Obama, the first two months of this controversial plan have been plagued with problems. Millions will lose their health plans as a result of the new law, and many thousands in our state will get booted from their plans. In Minnesota, where state leaders established our very own health insurance exchange, the news is not a whole lot better.

The state’s newest agency tasked with rolling out Obamacare, MNsure, has faced significant technology shortfalls, low participation, privacy concerns and overall frustration by the people of Minnesota. Even worse, the extraordinary cost to our hardworking taxpayers to build and operate this entity will surpass $150 million.

In the first month of operation, we learned only 10,940 people were in the process of enrolling for any type of coverage through MNsure. Most of these applicants were for public assistance programs and only 1,700 or so were in the process of paying for individual market plans. These numbers are far short of the amount projected and needed for MNsure to sustain itself (it will be funded in the future by a premium tax on every plan purchased through the website). If enrollment numbers don’t pan out how officials thought, taxpayers could be on the hook for millions more in future operation costs.

It is not only MNsure enrollees who are seeing their costs go up. It has been reported that as many as 1 in 20 Minnesotans (280,000) will be forced to give up policies they like, with doctors of their choosing, for policies that will be more expensive and involve services they do not want or need.

Minnesota’s nonpartisan Legislative Auditor released his special review in early November of a data breach that occurred on Sept. 12 at MNsure. It appears the agency did not have in place proper protocols for keeping private information and social security numbers of citizens safe. The auditor concluded: “The MNsure employee who disclosed private data made a mistake, acknowledged it, and was terminated. However, our findings demonstrate that what occurred was more than ‘an HR issue’ involving one employee.”

Our government agencies should have top-of-the-line security in place for handling private data as Gov. Dayton promised us when he signed the legislation. This is another unfortunate instance of the governor’s administration falling short when it comes to protecting private data. We need stricter rules in place that will put an end to these constant personal information breaches that undermine public trust.

The creation of a new “super-agency” in St. Paul without the requisite preparation was a major gamble by my DFL colleagues in the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Dayton. Minnesotans deserve a competitive market for their health coverage with affordable prices and less government interference. I hope we as lawmakers can address the flawed rollout of Obamacare during the 2014 legislative session.

Please contact me if you need assistance navigating the complicated changes to our health insurance policies. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you in St. Paul.