Archive for March, 2014

I wrote this post to highlight with statistics just how badly MNsure, aka Obamacare in Minnesota, is failing. Here are some of the things I highlighted in that post:

For individuals, MNsure has an open enrollment goal of 69,904 but so far only has 35,610. For small businesses, MNsure wants 8,925 people signed up by March 31 but right now only has 790 people enrolled.

These aren’t my statistics. They’re statistics included in KSTP’s article on MNsure. KSTP got their numbers from MNsure itself. It’s worth noting that the 69,904 figure is trimmed way down from the legislature’s initial projection, which I wrote about in this article:

According to [the fistcal note for HF5], their low-end enrollment in QHPs was supposed to hit 164,000, their mid-range enrollment in QHPs was supposed to hit 217,000 and their high-end enrollment in QHPs was supposed to hit 270,000.

Based on those projections, MNsure is only 13% of the way to hitting the high-end projection, 16.4% of the way to hitting the mid-range projection and only 21.7% of the way to hitting the lowest projection.

This graphic from the Minnesota Jobs Coalition ties the tale together nicely:

A few minutes ago, the Strib published this article with this headline:

MNsure call center bogs down as midnight deadline looms for enrolling in health coverage

Here’s the text of the article:

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The call center for Minnesota’s health insurance marketplace is reaching capacity and some callers aren’t getting through to agents as the midnight open enrollment deadline approaches.

MNsure officials say the call center logged more than 9,600 calls by noon Monday. MNsure says that’s putting a strain on the phone system. The average wait time as of about 1 p.m. was 18 minutes, and the time on hold is expected to increase throughout the day.

Exchange officials say people who can’t get through or have difficulty enrolling online should fill out an enrollment attempt form on MNsure’s home page. MNsure will contact them later to complete the enrollment process.

Those who miss the deadline but make a good-faith effort to enroll will get more time and escape a financial penalty.

There’s one inescapable truth to these statistics. People have stayed away from the policies offered through MNsure because the policies suck. If MNsure was selling appealing policies from the start, we would’ve read stories months ago that complained about how MNsure didn’t have enough servers to handle the volume of people signing up in huge numbers.

Those articles didn’t happen because people found out that the policies offered through MNsure were expensive, had high deductibles or were totally unaffordable.

That’s what failure looks like.

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Friday night, Mike Hatch enlisted himself as Gov. Dayton’s defense attorney. First, here’s a little background on the conversation. The first subject discussed during the Almanac Roundtable was medical marijuana.

When Cathy Wurzer brought up the subject of Gov. Dayton’s alleged statement to a parent to buy marijuana from a street dealer, Brian McClung jumped all over that, saying that it’s disgraceful that Gov. Dayton would tell someone to break the law. Then McClung said that it wasn’t just the mother who is making that accusation, that others attending that impromptu meeting had verified the fact that Gov. Dayton had said that.

That’s when Mr. Hatch came to Gov. Dayton’s defense, saying that “nobody knows what was said. Nobody here was in that meeting.” Then he said that since nobody on the panel was there, they shouldn’t state their opinion on what happened.

First, that’s exceptionally rich coming from someone who made a career as Minnesota’s Attorney General by avoiding trials by trying the cases in the court of public opinion. Hatch’s habit was to hold splashy press conferences where he’d say that another evil corporation had shafted John Q. Public. Most of Hatch’s lawsuits didn’t make it to trial because the defendant settled before trial.

But I digress.

Hatch’s argument is flimsy at best. Crime aren’t committed in front of a room full of upstanding citizens as witnesses. Despite that, juries frequently deliver guilty verdicts without eyewitness testimony to a shooting or robbery.

In this instance, however, there were a bunch of parents/activists who stepped forward and said that they’d heard Gov. Dayton make this statement. If they’re telling the truth, then Gov. Dayton told a distraught mother to commit a crime. This video shows at least 2 women, including Jessica Hauser, making the statement that Gov. Dayton told Ms. Hauser to buy marijuana from a street dealer:

If Mr. Hatch wants to argue that these women aren’t telling the truth, then he’d better bring a lunch because he’s in for a long day. There were at least a half dozen people standing with Ms. Hauser at Ms. Hauser’s press conference. If that’s the case, then Mr. Hatch’s job as Gov. Dayton’s defense attorney is to discredit each of these eyewitnesses’ testimony. I won’t say that’s impossible but I’d say accomplishing that is as likely as me hitting the Powerball jackpot…twice.

If I were Gov. Dayton, I’d either hire a better attorney or I’d throw myself on the mercy of the court because, right now, he doesn’t have a chance of winning this fight.

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It was quite a downer when Zach Dorholt defeated King Banaian, especially from a policy standpoint. We traded a respected economist for a politician with no particular policy skills. Apparently, though, Dorholt is a skilled spinmeister:

Tax Cuts for Minnesotans

The House got an early start this year by passing a repeal bill to end unnecessary warehousing and business-to-business sales taxes during the first week of session. As part-owner and a small business, I worked with members of both parties to make sure that warehousing taxes, telecommunications equipment taxes, and machinery repair sales taxes were repealed this session. I was a co-author of many of these business tax repeal bills in the House.

We also passed federal conformity as part of that tax repeal bill. Conforming Minnesota’s tax code to federal tax law makes tax filing easier for Minnesotans and qualified over 1 million residents of our state for $230 million in increased tax relief. Last Friday, we were finally able to act on the complete amended tax cut package that was sent to us by the Senate. We passed the bill the same day with bipartisan support to cut taxes by $430 million and sent it to Governor Dayton for signing.

Here’s the truth of what happened:

As part-owner and a small business, I worked with members of both parties to make sure that warehousing taxes, telecommunications equipment taxes, and machinery repair sales taxes that I voted for were repealed this session. I was a co-author of many of these business tax repeal bills in the House. I co-authored many of these tax repeal bills because not repealing them would’ve been political suicide. I supported terrible tax increase policies because that’s what loyal Democrats reflexively do.

Seriously, Dorholt voted for the biggest tax increases in Minnesota history last year. Then he saw the political firestorm erupt the minute Gov. Dayton signed the bill that Dorholt and the DFL voted for.

Now Dorholt wants to pretend that those tax increases just appeared out of thin air, that he didn’t have a thing to do with them. Dorholt wants people to think that giving some of the Democrats’ tax increase back should count as a tax cut. That’s the same logic as saying that the burglar who stole a flat screen TV, several brand new iPads and some kitchen appliances last week, then returned the kitchen appliances this week is a man of charity.

Restoring part of the things that the DFL legislature stole last year isn’t the same as cutting taxes. Outside of a Democratic politicians’ world, that’s considered as righting a wrong.

Finally, talking about tax conformity as tax relief is a joke. It isn’t tax relief. I don’t recall the DFL legislature passing tax conformity last year but if they did, they certainly didn’t talk about it as tax relief. When tax conformity was passed in previous sessions, the legislature just treated it like the right thing to do, a ho-hum type of thing.

I’m betting that the reason the DFL is trumpeting tax conformity as tax relief is because the DFL wants some political cover from the charges that a) the DFL passed the biggest tax increase in Minnesota history and b) the DFL’s tax increase hit plenty of middle class families.

The DFL and their allies like ABM and TakeAction Minnesota aren’t tethered to the truth. They’re more closely affiliated with spin that says reducing the size of last year’s tax increase is a tax cut. There’s a simple thing to remember. The next time that the DFL cuts taxes…will be the first time the DFL cuts taxes.

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It’s often a big deal when Sarah Palin endorses a candidate. Much pomp and circumstance accompanies Ms. Palin’s endorsements. It’s perfectly within Ms. Palin’s First Amendment rights to endorse the candidates she chooses. I’d just respect Ms. Palin’s endorsements if she’d do her homework, which she didn’t do with her latest endorsement:

A 12-year state senator, Ortman is challenging Democrat Al Franken in Minnesota. Palin contrasted her qualifications with those of the incumbent, whom she labeled a “clown.” (Franken had a successful career as a comedian before entering politics.)

Ortman “is a conservative champion. … She is running a grassroots campaign against a well-funded favorite of the Washington GOP establishment whose policy record is a blank slate,” Palin said in her endorsement.

Is a politician who won’t repeal Obamacare, who’s proposed raising taxes and who’s voted for Cap and Trade “a conservative champion” just because Sarah Palin says so?

By contrast, the candidate that Ms. Palin criticized as being a “favorite of the Washington GOP establishment”, Mike McFadden, favors repealing Obamacare, reducing regulations, simplifying our tax code and limiting government spending.

The reality is that Mike McFadden has laid out a legislative agenda that’s conservative. Altogether too often, Julianne Ortman has voted against common sense conservative principles because she’s been a go-along-to-get-along legislator for nearly 12 years.

The proof is clear. Contrary to Ms. Palin’s endorsing statement, Julianne Ortman isn’t “a conservative champion.” She’s the type of politician that Ms. Palin has railed against in the past.

That’s why Ms. Palin’s endorsement rings hollow. That’s why I’m questioning Ms. Palin’s endorsement. If she doesn’t want her credibility questioned, she needs to prove that she consistently stands for conservative principles.

This time, Ms. Palin didn’t stand for conservative principles.

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The DFL must see the Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment, as utterly annoying. What other reason would the DFL have for pushing that’s already been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court? This language from HF1944 looks familiar:

Subdivision 1. Electioneering communication. (a) “Electioneering communication” means a communication distributed by television, radio, satellite, or cable broadcasting system; by means of printed material, signs, or billboards; or through the use of telephone communications that:
(1) refers to a clearly identified candidate;
(2) is made within:
(i) 30 days before a primary election or special primary election for the office sought by the candidate; or (ii) 60 days before a general election or special election for the office sought by the candidate; (3) is targeted to the relevant electorate; and (4) is made without the express or implied consent, authorization, or cooperation of, and not in concert with or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate or a candidate’s principal campaign committee or agent.
(b) If an electioneering communication clearly directs recipients to another communication, including a Web site, on-demand or streaming video, or similar communications, the electioneering communication consists of both the original electioneering communication and the communication to which recipients are directed and the cost of both must be included when determining if disclosure is required under this section.

McCain-Feingold, aka the BCRA, prohibited certain types of speech 30 days before a primary election and/or 60 days before the general election. Here’s the relevant part of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling:

The statute is underinclusive; it only protects a dissenting shareholder’s interests in certain media for 30 or 60 days before an election when such interests would be implicated in any media at any time.

Here’s another important part of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. the FEC:

Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy—it is the means to hold officials ac-countable to the people—political speech must prevail against lawsthat would suppress it by design or inadvertence. Laws burdening such speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.”

Despite that clear ruling, the DFL insists on pushing a bill that includes provisions that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled unconstitutional. It isn’t just that they’ve ruled these provisions unconstitutional, either. It’s that they said future legislation had to pass strict scrutiny, which is described like this:

subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction “furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.”

The DFL knows that this is an extra-high hurdle that they likely can’t overcome. What’s disturbing is that the DFL isn’t hesitating in writing legislation that violates people’s rights to participate in the political process.

This is the definition of shameful, too:

Question: Why do Democrats hate certain types of political speech?

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Dave Unze’s article about the Great Place to Work Trust Index Survey included this interesting paragraph:

The survey was offered to all 1,582 university employees and generated a response from 40 percent of them. The university released the answers to two questions that were asked of those employees: What makes St. Cloud State a great place to work, and what would make the school a better place to work?

The administration needs to tell us why they’re hiding the Trust Index Survey results on a password-protected webpage that only people with a St. Cloud State account can access. Why wasn’t the entire survey released to the public? Why were only two open-ended questions released?

The St. Cloud Times needs to answer the legitimate question of why they didn’t demand that SCSU release everything from the survey, including the PowerPoint presentation. That PowerPoint presentation includes the results from some questions that I’m sure President Potter and his senior administration would rather see buried in the deep blue sea.

I’m certain President Potter would rather people not see this graphic:

Why would President Potter want people to see that only 20% of his employees think that “Management shares information openly and transparently”? President Potter certainly wouldn’t want the community to know that only 26% of his employees think that “Management delivers on its promises” and that only 24% of his employees think “Management’s actions match its words.”

It isn’t difficult to understand why President Potter doesn’t want the community to know that 28% of his employees think that “Management makes sound financial decisions” and that only 32% of employees think he’s competent. A university president doesn’t want it getting out that the vast majority of his employees think he’s incompetent and makes foolish financial decisions.

The past couple of weeks, the editorial page of the St. Cloud Times criticized a local school board and a city council for not being transparent. They’re right in calling for greater transparency from the school board and the city council. What’s puzzling is why the Times didn’t demand that same type of transparency from President Potter. Shouldn’t St. Cloud State be held to the same level of scrutiny as the Sartell-St. Stephen school board and the Cold Spring City Council?

Don’t St. Cloud residents deserve the same level of information-sharing that Sartell residents deserve.

If the Times won’t demand it, I will. President Potter, make all of the information from the GPTW Trust Index Survey available to the public. The Survey was paid for with taxpayers money. Public employees participated by filling out the Survey. Therefore, all information, including the PowerPoint presentation, should be public property. Period.

That level of secretiveness shouldn’t be tolerated from university presidents. The only thing worse is a media outlet that won’t push public officials for public information. Not pushing public officials for public information lets the University escape scrutiny and accountability.

The Times needs to ask itself an important question, namely, do they value accountability more than access to President Potter? If they prioritize accountability, then they’ll have to push President Potter.

President Potter needs to ask himself a question, too. Is being popular more important than doing the right thing? Based on this survey, his employees think President Potter puts a higher priority on staying popular in the community than he puts on doing the right thing.

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If this video doesn’t frighten policymakers, then they’re comatose:

Here’s the heart of Jay Koll’s article on the MNsure crisis:

Lawmakers who supported passage of MNsure legislation indicated, at the time, that private health insurance plans would be the key to making MNsure self-sustaining.

MNsure issued a news release touting enrollment numbers. It says MNsure has nearly reached its goal of 135,000 people enrolled for 2014, needing only 5,000 more people to sign up to reach that goal. But lawmakers who supported MNsure told taxpayers private health care plans were the key to sustaining MNsure financially.

KSTP looked at those two important categories and found troubling numbers. For individuals, MNsure has an open enrollment goal of 69,904 but so far only has 35,610. For small businesses, MNsure wants 8,925 people signed up by March 31 but right now only has 790 people enrolled.

Simply put, MNsure is just barely 50% of the way to their individual market goal. They’re less than 10% of the way towards their small businesses goal. Earlier this week, I wrote this article highlighting MNsure’s failure with young invincibles. Here’s the key statistic from that article:

Estimates are that 40 percent of enrollees need to be in that demographic to provide baseline ACA funding. As of Wednesday, only about 20,400 (16 percent) were ages 26-34, well short of the ideal goal of 54,000.

Let’s summarize the MNsure disaster. Enrollments in qualified health plans, aka QHPs, are falling far short of expectations. Enrollments for small businesses are falling incredibly short of expectations (less than 10% of expectations.) The young invincibles, ages 26-34, are staying away in disturbing numbers.

Recently, the DFL has criticized Republicans for highlighting MNsure’s shortcomings, saying that Republicans haven’t offered a solution. That’s a hollow criticism because Democrats haven’t admitted that the ACA is failing this miserably. Thus far, their statements have focused on the functionality of the website. The Democrats’ statements haven’t focused on the enrollment facts, which are falling far short of the Democrats’ readjusted (downward) goals.

This isn’t complicated. It’s obvious that families don’t like the product that’s being offered. The quickest solution is to offer families products that they like. That’s impossible because the ACA, aka Obamacare, dictates what’s in the QHP’s policies.

First, government shouldn’t tell people that they have to buy something they don’t want. It’s one thing to require car insurance because that protects other motorists. Health insurance protects families. Period. Second, government shouldn’t tell families what coverages they have to have in their health insurance policies.

Based on all the information that’s out there, it’s pretty clear that families are saying no to Obamacare/MNsure. They’re saying no because, in their estimation, the product they’re getting isn’t worth the price they’d pay. Until Democrats fix that part of the equation, the numbers will continue to tank.

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This statement from MNsure makes it sound like MNsure will meet its goals:

MNsure 96% to Goal with 10 Days Remaining in Open Enrollment
More than 130,000 enrolled, only 5,000 sign-ups remain to meet 135,000 goal

Reading those headlines, you’d think that MNsure was staging a comeback for the ages. It isn’t:

To date, MNsure has enrolled 35,610 in a Qualified Health Plan, 26,297 in MinnesotaCare and 69,570 in Medical Assistance.

If you’re asking where that 135,000 figure comes from, you’re on the right track. If you look at pg. 7 of HF5’s fiscal note, you’ll find that the medium projections 217,000 enrollments while the high end projection is for 270,000 enrollments. The lowest projection called for 164,000 enrollments in qualified health plans.

Compare that with MNsure’s announcement from last Friday. That statement admits that “MNsure has enrolled 35,610 in a Qualified Health Plan.” MNsure just admitted that they’re 21.7% of the way to accomplishing their low-end goal. They’re only 16.4% of the way to the mid-point goal. What’s worst is that they’re only 13.2% of the way to hitting their high-end goal.

Based on what the DFL sold the public when they passed the HIX bill, MNsure is dramatically underperforming. Despite all of MNsure’s happy talk, the reality is that the 135,000 figure is what they adjusted after seeing MNsure repeatedly crash during October and November.

What’s more is that the number of people enrolled in QHPs is only about a third of the people who’ve enrolled in various programs. Here’s the easiest way of thinking about this. Two-thirds of the people signing up via MNsure don’t pay into the system.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Yesterday, I wrote this article about another way MNsure is failing:

Estimates are that 40 percent of enrollees need to be in that demographic to provide baseline ACA funding. As of Wednesday, only about 20,400 (16 percent) were ages 26-34, well short of the ideal goal of 54,000.

Here’s the easiest way of explaining the importance of this statistic. Yesterday, I called into Ox in the Afternoon to talk with King Banaian about this. King was sitting in for Ox yesterday. King said that he’d recently seen a report that said this adverse selection would trigger a 55% increase in premiums for next year. King said he thought the report was from the CBO but he wasn’t 100% of that.

Simply put, if young healthies don’t enroll in sufficient enough numbers, the insurance companies won’t collect the revenues needed to pay the increased claims from older, less healthy people. That, in turn, will either drive insurance companies out of business or it’ll cause them to dramatically increase premiums.

Everything in the reported data says MNsure isn’t a success. Everything points to it being a failure that people aren’t buying into. Of course, that isn’t something that the DFL will admit but that’s their political problem. When those higher premiums hit next fall, the DFL will have their hands full politically.

Most importantly, more people will be hurt by MNsure/Obamacare than will be helped by it. Spending more than $150,000,000 on something that hurts more people than it helps is depressing.

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It was impossible to do a proper critique of the Times article in a single post so here’s Part II. First, let’s start with more Potter spin:

Potter said he was proud of the university community for the way it responded to the questions, and he noted that St. Cloud State was one of only a few higher education institutions to participate in this type of survey.

“It’s a risky thing to do. We knew that we would get some hard messages back,” he said. “We knew that we would not be near the top, that we have a long way to go. But (we) felt it was absolutely essential to take the step and move our culture forward.”

Fortunately for President Potter, the Times buried those hard messages from employees under a pile of manure. When the vast majority of employees think that the boss is incompetent and untrustworthy, those aren’t the ingredients for a great place to work. As damning as those things are, this might be the worst criticism of the Potter administration:

The survey was the idea of Holly Schoenherr, the university’s human resources director. Shortly after she started two years ago, she began to hear about employees who felt they were being bullied in the workplace and about concerns regarding civil discourse.

I’ve spoken with several SCSU professors. They won’t go on the record for fear of retribution from President Potter, corrupt members of the faculty or both. The pervasive atmosphere amongst faculty is that retribution is considered a management tool by the administration and their apologists.

What’s puzzling is that Mr. Unze didn’t ask Ms. Schoenherr whether the survey showed if the bullying had persisted. Also, why didn’t Mr. Unze ask whether the discourse had improved from being hostile? These are questions that should’ve been asked. These are questions that the public has a right to know.

As amateurish as the Times’ reporting is, that isn’t the focus of this post. What’s important is that this post highlight President Potter’s management (mismanagement?) style, the on-campus bullying and whether steps have been taken to improve on-campus morale.

Based on the information contained in this post, I’d argue that nothing concrete has changed:

The statistics speak for themselves. People don’t trust President Potter because his actions don’t match his words, because “management isn’t approachable” and because they think he’s incompetent.

There’s no reason to think President Potter will change. Absent him changing dramatically, the problems at SCSU will persist. No amount of spin from the administration and the St. Cloud Times will change that fact.

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For the umpteenth time, the St. Cloud Times treated disastrous news for President Potter like it was a minor bump in the road. Most importantly, the article showed how lazy Times reporter Dave Unze is:

The survey was offered to all 1,582 university employees and generated a response from 40 percent of them. The university released the answers to two questions that were asked of those employees: What makes St. Cloud State a great place to work, and what would make the school a better place to work?

That’s pathetic ‘reporting’. Why didn’t Unze ask for the other questions in the survey? This is the type of ‘journalism’ I’d expect from TMZ. Jon Stewart asks harder hitting questions than this. But I digress.

The survey’s findings are devastating to President Potter. Just look at this graphic:

Here’s what I wrote when I got the full results of the GPTWI survey:

When asked if “management’s words match its actions”, only 24% of respondents said yes. When asked if “management is competent”, only 32% said yes. When asked if “management makes sound financial decisions”, only 28% said they did.

Instead of digging into the meat of the survey, the Times picked out two softball questions that doesn’t get to the heart of the survey. That isn’t reporting. That’s insulting to the point that I should question whether President Potter is paying the Times to be his off-campus PR firm.

The graphic titled the numbers tell the story raises some important questions about President Potter’s competency and trustworthiness. In addition to the questions in the above paragraph, there are other damning questions. Here are some examples:

  1. Only 20% of survey respondents agreed with this statement: Management shares information openly and transparently.
  2. Only 29% of survey respondents agreed with this statement: Management is approachable.
  3. Only 26% of survey respondents agreed with this statement: Management delivers on its promises.
  4. Only 25% of survey respondents agreed with this statement: Management has a clear view.

The Times is cheating its readers by not asking hard-hitting questions. Apparently, the Times’ goal is to take whatever information President Potter gives them, then turns it into a story that praises President Potter.

President Potter’s decisions have taken St. Cloud State from being the flagship university in the MnSCU to being a distant 2nd place and fading fast. The only thing more disgusting than SCSU’s decline during President Potter’s watch is how the St. Cloud Times has refused to challenge President Potter’s spin.

The damning information is there for those willing to look for it. It’s apparent that Dave Unze isn’t willing to look for that type of information. It’s apparent that the Times management isn’t interested in holding Mr. Unze accountable for not digging into the story the way a real reporter would do.

This paragraph is insulting:

“As in any complex organization, there are folks that think that St. Cloud State is a great place to work. There is strong agreement among them about why they think that’s true,” Potter said.

When only a third of SCSU employees think management is competent, that’s a sign that there aren’t many folks who think SCSU is a great place to work.” When a fourth of SCSU’s employees think that management’s words match its actions, it’s impossible to think that SCSU employees trust President Potter and his senior management team. In the private sector, those survey results would get the CEO terminated immediately.

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