MNsure board boosts grant money for minority outreach

Published 10:32 am Thursday, September 12, 2013

ST. PAUL — The board of directors for Minnesota’s health insurance exchange voted Wednesday to add an additional $750,000 in grants to groups trying to boost enrollment after complaints that black and Somali community groups were initially neglected.

Board members were quick to agree with criticisms raised by Democratic state lawmakers and echoed Wednesday morning by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton that an initial $4 million in grants improperly left out prominent groups such as the Minneapolis Urban League and others that hoped to reach uninsured and underinsured people. MNsure is the main customer portal for operating health insurance exchanges and directing Medicaid enrollment, both tied to the federal health care overhaul.

“There’s going to be glitches, there’s going to be mistakes, and we have to quickly recognize them and learn from them,” said Lucinda Jesson, the state’s commissioner of human services, who sits on the MNsure board.

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MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov said the additional $750,000 was drawn from savings in other parts of the agency’s budgets. She said groups that applied for the $4 million in grants but weren’t included would be eligible and wouldn’t have to re-apply. Groups that didn’t already apply would not be eligible for the $750,000, she said.

The grants are meant to help community groups that want to work to connect the uninsured and underinsured with the health care options available through MNsure. Officials estimated that as many as 300,000 uninsured Minnesotans will get coverage through MNsure, and many with lower incomes will be available for federal tax subsidies to help pay for coverage.

Todd-Malmlov said the additional money would likely allow for “a handful” of additional groups to get grant money. Of the 119 groups that applied for the first round, 30 were chosen for a range of grant money.

At a legislative oversight panel Tuesday evening, several Democratic lawmakers heavily criticized MNsure’s leaders over the first round of grant decisions.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested that it demonstrated the kind of policy decisions that have contributed to disparities between white and non-white people in Minnesota in both educational achievement and community health.

Board members appeared to absorb the criticism. Phil Norrgard, who also serves as director of human services for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, said strong early investments in enrollment would pay off for MNsure long-term.

“The biggest challenge for any large operation comes in its first six or eight months,” Norrgard said. “I would like to try to make as much available as possible sooner rather than later.”

In all, MNsure has $11 million available for outreach to boost enrollment. With $4 million of that spoken for, officials had hoped to use the remaining $7 million to pay groups $70 per enrolled participant. Todd-Malmlov said MNsure officials would be monitoring that pot of money early on and said it’s possible some portion of that could be redirected to larger grants for groups if there’s still a demand.