ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democrats on a panel that oversees Minnesota’s new online health insurance exchange tore into its leaders Tuesday, charging they have failed so far to adequately reach out to minority communities with high numbers of uninsured people.
“I appreciate the work you’ve done, but you blew it,” Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said to the executive director and the board chairman of MNsure, the state’s vehicle for delivering requirements of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). “You just flat out didn’t get it right, and I’ll say it again and again,” he said.
At issue in a hearing of the Legislature’s MNsure Oversight Committee was an initial round of $4 million in grants from MNsure to 30 organizations that are supposed to help uninsured and underinsured people navigate the new online marketplace and purchase coverage. A number of groups that work with minority communities, particularly African and African-American ones, were mostly left out of the first round of grants, including well-established organizations like the Minneapolis Urban League.
“Do these groups know about how Somalis communicate? No, they don’t,” said Fartun Weli, founder of a Minneapolis nonprofit group that promotes healthy lifestyles to Somali women. “We were thinking MNsure would be an opportunity for system change and fairness.”
April Todd-Malmlov, MNsure’s executive director, said she believed the logic behind the first round of grant decisions would be clearer once more details about the grantees can be released. She said that was likely to happen by the end of the month when the grants are officially awarded.
“Our intention, I think everyone’s intention, is we want to reach the populations that need it,” Todd-Malmlov said. She said MNsure leaders were looking to free up more money for further grants, and also noted that another $11 million would be available for direct payments to groups for every individual person they help enroll in MNsure.
But Malmlov gave no indication the initial $4 million grants would be reconsidered. Under questioning from Hayden, she acknowledged that no black employees of MNsure were part of the team that awarded the grants.