Capitol Chatter: MNsure numbers depend on how figures are, well, figured
ST. PAUL -- Political reporters often suffer from bouts of dizziness after listening to political spin they must endure, but perhaps nothing is worse than when MNsure is involved. No sooner than MNsure, an online health insurance marketplace, had...
ST. PAUL -- Political reporters often suffer from bouts of dizziness after listening to political spin they must endure, but perhaps nothing is worse than when MNsure is involved.
No sooner than MNsure, an online health insurance marketplace, had announced that rates would rise an average of 4.5 percent than opponents claimed Minnesotans were being deceived.
Of course, it all depends on how that and many other figures are, well, figured.
The 4.5 percent number is only for the Twin Cities and compares this year's rates with those to be charged next year by the same insurers.
The problem is that PreferredOne was the insurance company of choice this year, mostly because it offered less expensive coverage, and it opted not to take part in MNsure next year. So in most cases, a PerferredOne customer will feel a more than 4.5 percent increase when signing up with another company.
Some rates will fall next year, but others will increase far more than 4.5 percent. For instance, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota reported its nearly 10,000 MNsure customers will pay about 17 percent more next year for the same policy.
While its numbers are being questioned, MNsure promoted the facts that it will offer more plans and there will be more financial aid available to pay for insurance.
“I am happy that we have attracted insurers to the market and are providing greater choice to Minnesotans throughout the state,” MNsure Board Chairman Brian Beutner said. “Some individuals may see lower rates and many more will benefit from state and federal financial help, so I encourage consumers to shop on MNsure to find what is best for them.”
Republicans, most of whom opposed MNsure's creation, are trying to use what they see as huge rate increases against Gov. Mark Dayton and other Democrats in the election. They produced a map, which can be found at tinyurl.com/GOPMNsure, that they claim shows a better representation of what people can expect.
The GOP map, drawn from MNsure data, shows a 60-year-old person in St. Louis County would pay 1 percent less for the second-best insurance plan than this year. A 25-year-old Kandiyohi County resident would pay 43 percent more for the least expensive plan than this year.
However, another story that comes from the map is that most people who live outside of the Twin Cities area will pay much more for insurance.
The Kandiyohi person would pay $504 a year more for insurance than his Twin Cities cousin. The St. Louis County example would pay $588 more than in the Twin Cities.
However, a 40-year-old Goodhue County resident would pay $1,212 more for a mid-range insurance plan than someone who lives next door in Dakota County, although that person would pay 6 percent less than this year.
Many businesses that use MNsure are facing rate increases close to 40 percent, according to Mike Hickey of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, with some reporting premium spikes of up to 156 percent.
MNsure serves about 343,000 Minnesotans, but most enrollees are forced to use the program because they get state or federal assistance. About 56,000 people buy private insurance via MNsure, without being required to.
Hair style on trial
National media and Democrats appear fascinated with Steward Mills' hair.
Kristina Peterson of the Wall Street Journal featured the Republican U.S. House candidate's hair in a story from Duluth. Nearly every national story on the race mentions his hair.
"The nearly shoulder-length locks of Stewart Mills, a Republican businessman running to unseat Minnesota Democrat Rep. Rick Nolan, have produced both scorn and support among voters in the wake of two attack ads released last month that feature the GOP candidate smoothing his hair behind his ears," Peterson wrote. “'It costs a lot to get this look,' says the narrator in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s first television ad in the district saying Mr. Mills would support tax breaks for millionaires. 'Lucky for Stewart Mills III, he inherited millions and a job with a six-figure salary.'"
The hair? "Its starring role in the ads has produced a backlash even among some of Mr. Nolan’s supporters."
The story quotes Ron Kutsi of Virginia, Minn., who asked: “Hair – really? What does that have to do with it?”
Early ballots flying out
More than 50,000 early ballots have been distributed around Minnesota.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's office says that more than 11,000 have been filled out and returned. This is the first time Minnesotans could vote early without giving an excuse such as they planned to be out of town on election day.
The number of ballots returned tops the number of absentee ballots cast at the same time in 2010 but trails the 21,000 in the presidential election year of 2012. Far more people usually vote in presidential elections.
“No-excuse absentee voting further improves the access to voting for our eligible voters,” Ritchie said.
Minnesota ready for Ebola
There are no indications Ebola has made its way to Minnesota, but state health officials say they are ready.
“While not easily transmittable, Ebola is a serious virus," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. "We know it can be frightening, but there's a marked difference between Minnesota and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. Minnesota has a strong health care system and skilled public health professionals who will make sure a case like this does not threaten our communities.”
Even with the differences, the Health Department has worked with local medical authorities and issued guidance about how to evaluate patients and submit laboratory samples.
“We know how to stop Ebola's spread: thorough case finding, isolation of ill people, contacting people exposed to an ill person and further isolation of contacts if they develop symptoms,” the Health Department's Kristen Ehresmann said.
Former President Bill Clinton plans a Friday Minneapolis rally for U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton.
The Democratic event will be 1 p.m. at the University of Minnesota's Northrup Auditorium. Information about how to get free tickets is at dfl.org/gotvrally.
Sunday sales support
There was at least one bit of agreement when Gov. Mark Dayton and challenger Jeff Johnson met in their first debate, in Rochester.
Both support allowing Sunday liquor sales.
"I don't think we should distinguish liquor and automobiles from other goods," Dayton said about two things state law does not allow to be sold on Sundays.
Added Johnson: "We will get it done if I'm governor."
Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service. Read his blog at http://capitolchat.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.