MNsure outreach criticized by minority groups

A state senator says the $9 million marketing campaign for the state's new online health insurance marketplace is under review for its appeal to minority groups.

Marketing for MNsure may also need to be expanded, said DFL state Sen. Jeff Hayden of Minneapolis.

"Though we think that Paul Bunyan has got Minnesota folklore written all over it and people identify with it, there's a lot of people that don't," Hayden told a town hall meeting Wednesday night in Minneapolis. "We want to make sure that as they market MNsure that they also have icons and people and symbols that they recognize so they can understand how they can access that."

The Paul Bunyan reference alluded to MNsure ads that use the mythological figure to encourage Minnesotans to shop for and compare health insurance. It goes live Oct. 1.

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Some said MNsure's initial failure to award grants to organizations that specifically serve African-Americans and Somalis had created mistrust and suspicion. The board has made an extra $750,000 available for more grants.

In preparing for the launch, the MNsure board said it would give $4 million in grants to organizations to enroll hard-to-reach populations and low-income people. But people complained that none of the 30 organizations selected for the grants primarily target African Americans, who are more than twice as likely as whites in Minnesota to lack health insurance.

After prompting from the governor, the MNsure board attempted to rectify the situation last week by voting unanimously to make another $750,000 available for outreach grants.

"We have the most diverse staff of any state entity. We've confirmed that with all of state HR enrollment records," MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov responded. "Over one-fourth of our staff represents communities of color. And we take a lot of pride in that and we will continue to ensure that we are doing that."

MNsure says the number of grants that'll be awarded out of the additional $750,000 hasn't been determined. They're not accepting new proposals; instead, they're reviewing proposals that were submitted by the original deadline -- July 19th -- but weren't awarded money. MNsure will announce the recipients in October.

MNsure has also set up a call center to answer questions, with staff who speak Spanish, Hmong and Somali and have access to interpreter services for more than 140 languages. To reach yet another demographic, MNsure holds another, online town hall meeting Monday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Twitter.