MNsure Statistics

Better late than never, the Star Tribune limps in today with the acknowledgement that they were lied to by the administration about MNsure health insurance rates.  On the front page of today’s print edition (above the fold), the Star Tribune announces, cryptically, “MNsure prices a weighty issue.”  The subhead reads,
Republicans say premium increases are much higher than Gov. Dayton reported.
How odd.  “Republicans,” and many others, have been saying that since the new rates were first announced on October 1st, more than three weeks ago.  The Star Tribune itself reported all of these facts, back on October 1st.
So what has changed that this nearly-month-old observationis suddenly front-page news?  The Star Tribunehas finally decided that skyrocketing MNsure rates is a political story rather than a business story.  Ten days before the mid-term elections, the Star Tribune has handed off coverage of the MNsure rate cover up to a political reporter (Ricardo Lopez) from its healthcare business reporter (Christopher Snowbeck).

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Gallup poll shows Tea Party supporters the most motivated to vote

They’re baaaa-aaack, as Carol Anne said in Poltergeist II. No, not the cheesy ghosts from the cemetery under their house, but the ghosts of the previous midterm election, and they’re about to haunt Democrats. Gallup’s survey from the end of last month shows that the most enthusiastic voters in this cycle are Tea Party supporters — and it’s not even close:

Although the Tea Party has not been as visible in this year’s midterm elections as it was in 2010, Tea Party Republicans have given more thought to this year’s elections and are much more motivated to vote than are non-Tea Party Republicans or other Americans. About one in four Americans continue to say they support the Tea Party.

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Government agency fights $23,000 city tax bill

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Dozens of property and business owners seethed when the city of St. Paul handed out $2.3 million in assessments for street improvements on the Green Line light rail construction project.

Still, it came as a surprise this week when someone not only complained but stepped up, refusing to pay a $23,000 assessment for streetscape and lighting improvements — at least for now.

Even more surprising the group that decided to take on the city wasn’t a business or landlord, but rather another unit of local government, namely, the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District board. MMCD owns a building on the University Avenue corridor for the 11-mile-long Green Line.

“Any kind of assessment, whether you’re a home owner or a business owner or anybody that owns some property, any time you get assessed for something it tends to raise hackles,” said Mike McLean, communications coordinator for the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District. “People want to make sure they’re charged no more or less than what they owe.”

The government agency’s board reacted like irate taxpayers getting an unexpected $23,000 notice, which, some board members said, they heard about for the first time during Wednesday’s monthly meeting.

The assessment was tucked away on Page 9 of the board’s information packet, along with a new $4,317 annual right-of-way and street maintenance assessment.

“We had a big discussion and people were getting a little more angered as it went on,” said Tom Workman, a Carver County commissioner and MMCD board member. “We’ve got to at least appeal this thing and find out what we can do, maybe get someone to evaluate what our damages are.”

A check of state law indicated MMCD was not exempt from the assessment. Executive director Stephen Manweiler’s report said “these assessments can be covered by MMCD’s current budget.”

But board members — county commissioners with hands on experience with tax assessments — took it more personally and wanted to fight it.

“I’m a former mayor and City Council member for many, many years, and I’ve been involved in more special assessment issues than I care to talk about,” said Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan. “I know the burden of proof is on the City of St. Paul to establish the fact that we did in fact benefit to the extent of the special assessment under Chapter 429 of Minnesota statutes. They have got the burden of proof.”

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The Un-Expendables: Superintendents retire, get rehired with pension and pay

EDINA, Minn.— They could be called “The Un-Expendables,” public school superintendents who retire for a few days before they’re lured back for a sequel at their former jobs — with full salary, benefits, incentives and pension.

Educators employed before July 1989 whose age and years of work experience total 90 years or more qualify for a pension. By technically retiring for as little as one day, they can have it both ways — working and collecting both a paycheck and pension.

Ric Dressen, Edina Public Schools superintendent, retired in 2013 — for a week. After receiving $96,000 in severance pay, Dressen was back in the office, again getting his $193,000 salary plus a $90,395 annual pension.

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Meet The New Huckster, Same As The Old Huckster

During last week’s gubernatorial debate in Duluth, Governor Dayton referred to the Iron Range has having been victimized by “hucksters” with hare-brained economic development schemes to try to compensate for the crash of the mining industry.

Dayton Dustbowl

Yesterday on their show blog, Jack and Ben (who, notwithstanding working for the lesser talk station, have been on fire this past week or so) discovered something important; exactly who one of the key “hucksters” was:

The smoking gun is a January 1986 document titled “Housing and Community Development Briefs” authored by the Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development and several other organizations. According to the document: “The Department of Energy and Economic Development recently approved [a direct, fixed-interest rate, fixed asset new/expanding business loan].” The publication then lists several businesses that were recipients of the loans, including Lakewood Industries [the company that built the chopstick factory]. It states, “Lakewood Industries, a startup company expected to create 76 jobs in the next two years, received final approval for a $250,000 loan.”

Now, Dayton was Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development commissioner from 1978-79, and again from 1983-86.  In other words, his fingerprints are all over the infamous Chopstick Factory. 

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Franken’s 6 extra words

Whenever a DFL politician talks about major construction projects, whether it’s the Sandpiper Pipeline project or the PolyMet Mining project, they always say these 6 extra words:

“We need to do this right.”

This time, the politician was Al Franken and the project he was talking about was PolyMet. Unfortunately, Sen. Franken loves using the environmental activists’ code words. Here’s a perfect example:

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“It’d Be A Shame If Your Insurance Company Were To..Break, Or Something”

The reason Preferred One – provider with all of the least-expensive plans in the MNSure exchange – left the exchange last month, giving most of its subscribers a 60+% increase in rates to keep a MNSure plan, was that they were basically strong-armed into providing the unsustainable low rates to begin with:

Sometime after the insurer PreferredOne submitted its proposed rates for the first year of the MNsure exchange, state regulators asked the company to consider lowering the numbers.

Ultimately, the insurer responded with “a total rate decrease of 37 percent”, according to a July 2013 letter from an outside actuary to the company.  Those final rates were the lowest in the Twin Cities – and across the country, in many cases – and helped PreferredOne to grab nearly 60 percent of the MNsure business.

Now, those subscribers face an average premium increase of 63 percent if they stay with PreferredOne — a yo-yo scenario that health policy experts say points to the challenge in setting prices under the federal health law. The big swing also suggests that the low prices were out of step with the reality of the business.

“This was the first year of a new market, so no one knew what they were bidding on,” , said Gary Claxton, a vice president with the California-based Kaiser Family Foundation. “That means it was hard to create the rates, and it was hard to review them.”

 Here’s the deal:  as Representative Zerwas pointed out on a morning radio show today, Preferred One is keenly aware that the MNSure board – a political board, composed (per statute) of absolutely no people from the  healthcare or health insurance industries – can decide who does and doesn’t get to participate in the exchange. 

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Bait and Switch

Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter (recently of the Pioneer Press) Christopher Snowbeck is performing a great public service in his reporting the on the ongoing MNsure debacle.

About this time last year, we were all suspicious of the apparent low rates being offered on Minnesota’s Obamacare exchange.  Sure, everyone loves a bargain, but the re-election campaign-ready “nation’s lowest rates” claim always looked too good to be true.

Sure enough, low-price supplier Preferred One grabbed a majority of the first-year MNsure market share.  It turns out that they were low-price, not low cost.  They have dropped out of the MNsure exchange and raised rates by 63 percent to any customers who are still interested in sticking around.

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Vote what I say, not what I do

Republicans face an uphill battle in a state like Minnesota, where words matter more than deeds. As long as the majority of voters like what they hear, that's who gets their vote.

The KSTP/SurveyUSA Poll results announced at the beginning of October revealed an interesting dichotomy among the voters questioned by the survey:

52% of respondents disapprove of the performance of Minnesota's government health insurance exchange, MNSure, which in the wake of scandal and mismanagement has made healthcare less affordable and resulted in less choice for consumers.

66% of respondents disapprove of the new $77 million Senate Legislative Office Building (SLOB), passed by the DFL-controlled legislature in a classic dead-of-night, end-of-session, buried-in-a-tax-bill gambit.

61% of respondents rate Minnesota's roads, highways, and bridges as "Fair" or "Poor," compared to 38% who rate them "Excellent" or "Good." But at least we have trains and bike paths that are useless for commerce or for hauling the fishing boat up to Brainerd.

The survey didn't need to ask whether Minnesotans are satisfied or dissatisfied with the educational achievement gap in the school districts with the highest per-pupil state funding (Minneapolis and Saint Paul).

And now for the bad news for Republicans:

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And You Want To Be My Governor?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and it’s interesting to consider what pictures say about Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. I first noticed Dayton’s unique photogenic qualities way back when he was a United States Senator and was captured calling bingo by a local community newspaper. 

Dayton calling bingo

The distorted mouth and eyes wide open have sort of become a Dayton hallmark over the years. As has the thousand yard stare. 

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