Counterpoint: Gov. Dayton’s attack on Republican leader’s truthfulness is absurd

This piece originally appeared in the Star Tribune on October 21, 2016.

He’s wrong on several points, and unhelpful. 

In “Don’t believe Republicans: MNsure isn’t the problem” (Oct. 19), Gov. Mark Dayton levied a harsh attack on the truthfulness of statements from House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, on the current crisis in Minnesota’s individual health-insurance market — a market where people are now facing rate increases of 50 percent to 67 percent.

Calling out someone for being untruthful is a serious matter. So you would hope Dayton’s claims were firmly supported by the facts. Yet, the statements Daudt penned that Dayton claims to be false are, in fact, quite true.

Dayton first claims, “ ‘Hundred[s] of thousands of Minnesotans’ will NOT see actual health-insurance increases of 50 percent or more, because many people, who buy their policies through MNsure, will receive federal tax credits that will significantly lower their costs.”

Wrong! The Pioneer Press recently reported on the numbers of people effected by rate increases and found that “about 300,000 Minnesotans are in that category, of whom 70,000 buy their plan through the state-run MNsure exchange and 230,000 directly from insurers.” Thus, the number of Minnesotans effected by rate increases who don’t access tax credits through MNsure does step into “hundreds of thousands” territory.
Dayton then claims MNsure consumers “will NOT have to spend hours on the phone with MNsure, because its customer service has improved greatly since a bad beginning.”

Wrong! Though MNsure has improved the call center, there were still times during the last enrollment period when, as MPR News reported, “some customers still spent more than an hour waiting for help.” Moreover, when Daudt says people will wait hours, he’s referring to the fact that tens of thousands of people will be clamoring to sign up for health-insurance coverage on day one of the open enrollment period in hopes of getting their preferred insurance coverage before enrollment hits the caps that the Dayton administration allowed for certain insurers.

Those who don’t get covered on Nov. 1 will likely be left with only one option for an insurance company, and that option will have only a narrow provider network available. This rush for coverage will almost certainly congest phone lines and result in callers waiting hours to get help.

Dayton then claims “rate increases and enrollment caps … are NOT the fault of MNsure.”

Wrong! No one argues MNsure is entirely to blame for the present crisis, but it has certainly played a role. When assigning blame for this mess, Daudt points to both “MNsure and federal mandates that destroyed states’ ability to design an insurance market that meets the needs of its people.”
What is MNsure’s role? For one, MNsure and the state have failed to stop people from gaming the system by signing up for coverage when they get sick or hurt outside the enrollment period. People dropping in and out of coverage based on when they need care substantially drives up rates for everyone else who remains covered.

Next, part of the DFL’s strategy to implement MNsure involved the decision to expand access to MinnesotaCare to people with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. As a result, more than 100,000 people were placed in this public program who might otherwise have joined and helped stabilize the individual health-insurance pool. Furthermore, because MinnesotaCare pays doctors less, the people left in the individual pool must pay more.

Finally, difficulties in gaining coverage through MNsure discouraged healthy people who did not have immediate health care needs from signing up, resulting in a sicker pool.

Dayton’s column is positively un-Minnesotan. Minnesotans expect a robust debate on important policy issues, but they also expect a level of respect and regard for people with opposing views, especially among our leaders.

Dayton’s direct and unfounded attack on the truthfulness of those who simply hold a different view only coarsens the public dialogue, which, in turn, makes it harder for people of good faith to come together to find solutions to these weighty problems.

Peter Nelson is senior policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment and a member of the Minnesota Health Care Financing Task Force.