Higher property taxes? Blame hidden MNsure costs

By now most Minnesotans realize the Affordable Care Act has drastically increased the cost of healthcare coverage for many, while at the same time decreasing coverage choices.

Governor Mark Dayton has confirmed the worsening prognosis with his admission that “the reality is the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable to increasing numbers of people.”mnsure-it-sign

What’s not widely known is that taxpayers are also being gouged for millions of dollars a year on their property tax bills because of ongoing problems with MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange.

This hidden cost is borne by counties to compensate for the inefficiencies and software failures of MNsure’s dysfunctional IT system.

“This has been a huge unfunded mandate on the counties. Once again, we’re cleaning up the state’s mess,” Dakota County Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg told Center of the American Experiment.

State officials once promised the system—officially called the Minnesota Eligibility and Technology System (METS)—would make the process of enrolling and verifying participants faster and cheaper.

But behind the scenes, county eligibility workers have been tearing their hair out over a malfunctioning IT system that’s never come close to living up to its billing since MNsure went online three years ago. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

“There is more case eligibility and maintenance work required in METS by county staff than in the former system,” according to a recent Hennepin County Board report.

The Minnesota Association of Counties estimates taxpayers spend an additional $27 million annually to work around the flawed online METS technology. This year alone some 249 extra eligibility workers were added to county government payrolls statewide.

“We really need to look at the hidden cost of administering METS and the consequence to the taxpayer. We are in the midst of working on our truth in taxation hearings and our county budgets and all over the state counties are adding staff,” Olmsted County Commissioner Shelia Kiscaden testified recently before the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee.

The number of new government employees added to county payrolls has varied widely, ranging from 54 new employees in Hennepin County to two new workers in Pennington County in Northwestern Minnesota.  Consequently, county levies are rising across the state.

The $800,000 in increased costs to staff MNsure in Olmsted County account for about a third of a proposed 2.5 percent levy increase on the table.  In Pennington County, the MNsure penalty adds up to about two percent of the tax levy, a big deal in a county with a population of 15,000.

“It seems if the state or the feds try to provide this kind of service, it’s always difficult to deal with and more expensive than it needs to be,” Pennington County Commissioner Darryl Tveitbakk said.

It’s a double whammy. Many Minnesotans are not only paying more and getting less due to the Affordable Care Act’s harmful effect on the health insurance marketplace. They’re also being forced to further subsidize an online exchange that’s still dysfunctional now three years after launching.