MNsure approves up to $750K more for outreach

When the state's new online insurance marketplace, MNsure, announced the groups that would share $4 million in grants to help Minnesotans sign up for coverage, officials said the money would go to organizations helping to enroll hard-to-reach populations and low-income people who lack insurance.

But the announcement sparked an outcry because none of the 30 organizations MNsure selected for the outreach grant primarily serves African-Americans, who are more than twice as likely as whites in Minnesota to lack health insurance.

14 questions and answers about MNsure

Before MNsure's meeting got underway this afternoon, Gov. Mark Dayton called on the board to respond to the complaints.

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"They certainly heard as they should from those who were rightfully indignant that they were excluded from the outreach funding," Dayton said. "I hope that the board will act with additional funds to remedy that, and I hope that they won't repeat that mistake again."

The board responded, voting unanimously to make up to $750,000 available for more outreach grants. MNsure's executive director April Todd-Malmlov said the money will come from unanticipated savings in at least two area: consumer testing and online training.

Before the vote, some board members said they wanted to know more about gaps in the original grant funding.

"Was there something wrong with the entire process, the selection process, and should it be done over?" asked board member Thompson Aderinkomi. "Was the selection process fine but somehow managed to miss this, create this really important gap that a lot of people noticed?"

No one directly answered the question. But MNsure board member Lucinda Jesson, commissioner of the state Department of Human Services, said that although the $4 million grant was a good start, conceded that the process had overlooked groups that serve the African-American community.

Jesson said getting MNsure up and running so quickly is a huge and ambitious task for the state.

"[T]here are going to be glitches; they're going to be mistakes," Jesson said. "We have to quickly recognize them and learn from them and keep moving on and that's going to happen because we are trying to do so much, so quickly."

But which groups will share the additional money remains an open question.

At a hearing Tuesday night, state Sen. Jeff Hayden, a member of the legislative oversight committee that will review the insurance marketplace's operations, was skeptical the board would get it right on a second try.

"If there wasn't a targeted way in which to bring those organizations in so that they can go back out and talk to those folks who we know are uninsured, how do we know the next iteration, if there is new money that we don't do the same thing?" asked Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis.

It's not clear how the new money will be allocated, but board members also mentioned that in addition to funding groups that primarily serve African-Americans and Somalis, that there might be new grant money available to groups that serve people with mental illness.

MPR News' Tim Pugmire contributed to this article