Dayton pledges to improve MNsure

Gov. Mark Dayton says he's hugely disappointed with the performance of MNsure and the people he relied on to make it work. But the governor says the buck stops with him to improve the online health insurance exchange.

Dayton reacted Thursday to a report from Optum, a unit of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group. The report found MNsure's problems are widespread and cannot be solved by the March 31 federal deadline for most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty. Optum said the state could try to fix the current system, which could take up to two years, or try to get it minimally functional for 2015 enrollment while building a new system from scratch.

"Those are the decisions that the new management is going to be making, and obviously the Legislature will be involved and the board and I'll have my say in it too," Dayton told reporters. "But we're going to fix it. We're going to improve it. I'm determined we're going to give Minnesota what it deserves."

Republicans were quick to promote the Optum report on social media sites Wednesday, and MNsure's woes will undoubtedly be a big part of a GOP campaign against Dayton.

"Finger pointing about the past, others can engage in that," Dayton said. "My focus is, what do we need to do now? How can we improve the system? How can we eventually fix it? What's it going to cost and how do we go about doing that?  Others can make all the informed and uninformed judgments that they're going to make and that's the way the process goes."

One option Dayton ruled out is abandoning MNsure altogether and falling back on the federal website. He said he still believes a Minnesota-based exchange can provide better service in the long run.

The governor also outlined what may become his defense of MNsure on the campaign trail.

"Republicans have been against this from the very beginning,"  he said.  "They were opposed to it in Washington and they took it to the U.S. Supreme Court. They're opposed; they're opposed; they're opposed, and they're gloating now, some of them,  because of some of the problems it's having."

Dayton noted that the Affordable Care Act allows parents to include children on their insurance until age 26. He said it means preexisting conditions cannot be used to deny patients coverage by insurance companies and that preventative services like cancer detection are now available.

He said eventually the law will result in thousands more Minnesotans having access to affordable health care.

"And those who are opposed to MNsure refuse to say what their alternative is," said Dayton. "Do we just go back to the wild west, Darwinian, you know, everybody makes an offer and you buy whichever policy you think is right, and then you find out after someone in your family or yourself becomes ill that you're not covered the way you thought you were?"

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