News Flash: GOP Activist Reveals That Veteran GOP Consultant Is Supporting A GOPer for Governor

Tom_HornerMinnPost reporter Cyndy Brucato is breaking the blockbuster news that 2010 Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner is, gasp, crossing party boundaries to support Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson!  The reporter breathlessly reports:

Another leader in the Minnesota Independence Party is gravitating toward support of a Republican statewide candidate.   Tom Horner, the Independence Party candidate for governor in 2010, is meeting this week with GOP candidate for governor Jeff Johnson to discuss joining his campaign.

Wow, if that happens, that does sound like huge news!

Unless you pay close attention to politics.

If you do pay close attention to politics, you know that Tom Horner is a long-time Republican staffer, supporter, consultant and pundit.  Before Horner spent one year as a right-leaning Independence Party candidate for Governor, he was the head staffer for Republican U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger, has advocated for Republican candidates like Norm Coleman his entire adult life, has long counseled Republicans, and served for many years as the Republican voice on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and other news outlets.

In short, for decades Horner has been one of the most visible Republicans in Minnesota. Reporter Brucato is aware of this because she was a lead staffer for Republican Governor Arne Carlson and Norm Coleman.  But she mentions none of Horner’s GOP bona fides in the article.

In other words, the real headline here is actually a wee bit less newsworthy.  It’s more like:

GOP Activist Reveals That Veteran GOP Consultant Is Supporting A GOPer for Governor


I like and respect Tom Horner a great deal.  Though we disagree on many policy issues, Tom is intelligent, has integrity, and Mr. Johnson is lucky to have his policy and PR counsel.    But let’s get real.  This hardly qualifies as the blockbuster news the reporter makes it out to be.

I support MinnPost relying on a ex-staffers of politicians for opinion pieces. That’s an appropriate role for an ex-staffer.  But they shouldn’t rely on ex-staffers from either party for news reporting like this, because their advocacy background naturally calls their objectivity into question.

While  the lede was blown way out of proportion, I did find a few things intriguing about the article that left me hungry for deeper reporting.  On taxes, Horner says:

 “I wasn’t opposed to raising more revenue, but the way the governor went about it is not in the best long-term interest of Minnesota. Just adding fourth tier only reinforces a tax system that isn’t suited to a global market. Maybe we need more revenue but tilt the policy much more to tax consumption and more to reward investment.”

And on health care, Horner says:

“MnSure is where Republicans could play an effective role. It’s good that we’re expanding access and covering children and have a more robust marketplace.  Now how do we control the underlying drivers of health care?”

The fact that Tea Party-backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson may be bringing in a pro-tax, pro-Obamacare consultant for policy advice raises additional questions that were not posed by the reporter:

  • Does Horner think tax increases were only needed in the past, or does he think that more may be needed in the future?  If so, which taxes would he favor increasing?
  • Which parts of health reform would Horner favor retaining?  Medicaid expansion?  Tax credits?  The insurance exchange system?  Pre-existing condition reform paired with the insurance mandates?  Other?  How would Horner propose Mr. Johnson could better control health care costs?
  • Does candidate Johnson share Horner’s opinions on taxes and health reform?
  • What do key Tea Party-friendly supporters of Johnson think of bringing in Horner to advocate for these positions?

The answers to those questions would have been informative, and would have qualified as actual news.

– Loveland

MN Congressional Candidates Take Note: 6 of 10 Americans Want To Keep Obamacare

The reporting on Obamacare public opinion research has been consistently shallow, as I’ve noted for years.  Despite the many simplistic “Public Opposes Obamacare” stories and punditifications, a deeper dive into the polls shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans want to either keep the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as is, or improve it.

The latest Kaiser Family Health Foundation Tracking Poll, which was fielded prior to this week’s positive publicity about ACA insurance exchanges targets being met, finds that this trend is continuing.  Even after a pre-deadline deluge of anti-Obamacare advertising, Americans still oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act, by a huge 29% to 59% margin.  Independent voters, who will be so important in the upcoming mid-term elections, also overwhelmingly oppose the GOP’s repeal calls, by a 32% to 52% margin.

Survey__59_pct_want_to_keep_acaSo, nervous DFL congressional candidates, improvements to the ACA — a better exhange website, a more robust exchange call center, more exchange “navigators,” stronger enrollment incentives for young adults,  and/or a public insurance option — would be welcomed by voters.  But let your Republican opponents blather on about “repeal and replace” all they want, because it simply is not selling.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

MN GOPers Offer Bill To Insure More Families and Ban Preexisting Condition Exclusions

Saint Paul, Minnesota (April 1, 2014) —  Republicans legislators in the Minnesota House of Representatives today released detailed legislation that would extend health insurance to 489,000 uninsured Minnesotans, and guarantee that Minneostans will never again be denied health coverage because of a preexisting health condition.

“Democrats have put their detailed health care plan out there to be analyzed by Minnesota citizens, so we decided that we should develop our own detailed proposal,” said Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown).

republican_alternative_to_obamacare_GingrichThe Democrats’ Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made it illegal for private insurance companies to deny coverage due to pre-existing health conditions, something that impacts many of the 2.3 million Minnesotans who have some type of pre-existing health condition, and others who could develop one in the future.

The ACA also successfully helped 95,000 of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens get efficiently covered in Medicaid, including about 12,000 uninsured Minnesotans whose medical expenses were being shifted to insured Minnesotans.  In addition, the ACA covers 35,000 Minnesota young adults, many of whom otherwise would have been uninsured, but now are able to stay on their parents’ health policy until age 26.  Finally, over 150,000 Minnesotans recently enrolled into health insurance plans via the MNsure online insurance selection and comparison tool, in part because the plans offered on MNsure carried the lowest premiums in the nation.

Despite those findings, Republicans gathered at a news conference at the State Capitol today to declare the Democratic effort a “train wreck,” and to release their detailed legislative alternative  They note that their legislation will achieve more results at a fraction of the cost of the ACA.

“We’re proud of our party’s health reform ideas, and have no problem setting our detailed proposal alongside the Democrats’ detailed proposal,” said Daubt.  “In fact, we have already asked for a non-partisan third party analysis of our legislation, so that Minnesotans can see precisely how our bill compares with the ACA in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and affordability.”

In other April 1 news, a large group of boars was reported to be flying through a brutal polar vortex over the frozen southeastern Michigan town of Hell.  The soaring swine seemed to be disoriented by a blinding morning sunrise on the western horizon.

Note:  This satirical post was featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

MNsure Ads: 10,000 Reasons We Already Know About

paul_bunyan_mnsure_tree-2For about five months now, MNsure ads have repeatedly told us:  “Minnesota is the land of 10,000 reasons to get health insurance.”  To educate us of this fact, the ads have portrayed a variety of health calamidies befalling Minnesota icon Paul Bunyan.  Incidents involving crushed private parts are particularly popular.

MNsure’s ad agency seems convinced that as soon as Minnesotans understand that they could face Bunyan-esque health problems without health insurance, they will surf on over to  But at this stage of the game, that message isn’t sufficient.  Repeatedly telling Minnesotans that  coverage brings treatments is like telling us that parkas bring warmth.  We get that.  If Minnesotans somehow didn’t know that self-evident fact before the MNsure ads, they darn sure do five months into the multi-million dollar campaign.

So how about we share some motivating information that many DON’T know?

Sharing New News About MNsure

For example, the ads could tell Minnesotans that if they don’t get coverage by March 31st, they have to pay a large government penalty.   That would seem to be a pretty motivating piece of information, and research shows that about a third of the population doesn’t know about the penalty, and 8 out of 10 don’t know about the deadline.

Or the ads could explain how health coverage has never been more affordable for thousands of Minnesotans.  That also would seem to be a pretty motivating fact, yet research shows that a whopping 69% of Americans don’t know about new premium tax credits and other financial assistance.  Among the young  people who are so key to making the Obamacare risk pools stable, awareness about financial assistance is even lower.

Minnesota has a particularly good story to tell on the affordability front, because MNsure is offering the lowest premiums in the nation.  So, why isn’t MNsure telling that story?

“Newly affordable” and “mandatory a few weeks from now” are messages that are motivating and new news.  And as far as I can tell, they are missing from MNsure’s current ads.

Bye Bye Bunyan

So it’s time to retire the sophomoric Paul Bunyan hilarity.  As MNsure enters the home stretch toward the March 31st deadline, it should switch to  a much more utilitarian message.  Rough example:

Young adult:

Why did I use MnSURE to get health coverage?   Not because I think buying insurance is fun.  It’s no more fun than buying car insurance, which I also have to do.

No, I did it to avoid  a double hit.

First I did it to avoid a looming government penalty.  If you haven’t heard, there is a big penalty that kicks in March 31 for anyone who isn’t covered.  And it gets bigger over time.

Second, I did it to avoid the crippling medical bills that can come from being uninsured.

And the good news is, getting coverage on MNsure was more affordable than I expected.   Minnesota’s MNsure site offers the lowest average premiums of any state, and over two-thirds of the uninsured are eligible for help to make coverage more affordable.

So, no missed deadline.  No penalty.  No medical bankruptcy.  And more affordable than I expected.

I’m not an ad copy writer, so someone can write a much better ad than this.  But you get the general idea.

When the MNsure ads launched in September 2013, the light approach maybe made sense.  Five months later, WE GET THE JOKE ALREADY.  Now it’s time for MNsure to tell Minnesotans some things they don’t already know.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Now Is The Winter of Our MNbamacare Discontent

So much political analysis is focused on the short-term:  “Which side won yesterday’s news cycle.” But unless it’s the day before an election, such short-term analyses aren’t particularly meaningful.

Hand_of_cards-2The more useful question to ask is this: “On the next Election Day, would I rather be playing the proponents’ or opponents’ hand?”     Applying that question to the issue of MNsure and Obamacare, I’d  much rather be playing the supporters’ hand.

Public relations-wise, MNsure has definitely “lost” many a news cycle over the last several months.  Security breaches, website crashes, protracted customer service waits, and data transfer blunders.  And as we all know, when the going got tough, the tough got going, to a Costa Rican beach, a particularly damaging episode.

These things all hurt, and I don’t mean to diminish them.  MNsure and Obamacare supporters have been dealt bad cards in recent days.  If you’re only focused on the short-term history, it looks like reform supporters might have a very bad political hand to play in the 2014 elections.

But forget about December 2013 for a moment, and consider how things will look like on November 4, 2014.

What GOP Will Be Proposing To Eliminate In 2014

By Election Day 2014, eliminating the reforms will be a more difficult sell, because by that time the reforms will have touched millions of lives in pretty significant ways.  Republican candidates will need to make the case “I will eliminate something that has…”

PAID MILLIONS IN REBATES.  Produced millions of dollars in rebates paid by insurance companies to thousands of Minnesotans and millions of Americans, thanks to an Obamacare provision authored by Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Al Franken.  The provision limits the proportion of premium dollars insurers can use for non-health care expenses, and requires that the difference be paid back in customer rebates.

HELPED THE MOST VULNERABLE MINNESOTANS.  Got 95,000 of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens efficiently covered in Medicaid, including about 12,000 uninsured Minnesotans whose medical expenses were being shifted to insured Minnesotans.

COVERED UNINSURED YOUNG ADULTS.  Covered 35,000 Minnesota young adults, who otherwise would have been uninsured and now are able to stay on their parents health policy until age 26.

MADE PRIVATE COVERAGE MORE FEASIBLE.  Offered lower costs in the marketplace to 382,595 Minnesotans who are uninsured or otherwise eligible for subsidies.

HELPED CONTROL HEALTH EXPENDITURES.  Contributed, along with state and health plan-driven reforms, to the slowest growth of health care expenditures since the state began tracking expenses in the mid 1990s, which will immensely help Minnesota’s future fiscal and economic outlook.

ELIMINATED CO-PAYS FOR PREVENTATIVE HEALTH SERVICES.  More than 1.4 million Minnesotans no longer have to shell out co-pays for preventative health care, because of an Obamacare requirement.  This includes things like flu shots, colonoscopies, mammograms and well-child check-ups.

DELIVERED LOWEST PREMIUMS IN THE NATION.  Created a simple-to-understand — though still not simple to use — apples-to-apples insurance marketplace that has prompted competitors to offer Minnesota consumers the lowest insurance premiums in the nation.

ENDED PRE-EXISTING CONDITION BANS.  Made it illegal for private insurance companies to deny coverage due to pre-existing health conditions, something that impacts many of the 2.3 million Minnesotans who have some type of pre-existing condition.

Presentation1Again, I don’t intend to sugar coat the current situation.  It’s been a rough few months for Obamacare and MNsure supporters.  The exchange website, call center, and management problems need to be improved as soon as possible.  Now most definitely is the winter of MNbamacare supporters’ discontent.

But come next fall,  Republican candidates, who offer no viable health care reform plan of their own, will have a very difficult time making the case for elimination of reforms that have been producing strong benefits for millions of Minnesotans.  “Elect me, to increase our rate of uninsurance again!”  “Elect me, to eliminate what you want to work better.”  “Elect me, to bring back pre-existing condition bans for your family!”

MNsure and Obamacare’s 2013 frailties aside, trying to take away those widespread benefits will be a very difficult political hand for the GOP to play in the 2014 elections.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also republished in MinnPost, and featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

About That Anti-MNsure Poster Child

Emily_Litella_Never_Mind-2After writing a letter-to-the-editor to a weekly newspaper complaining about MNSure rates, Jennifer Slater of Mabel, Minnesota was used by Republican operatives as a national poster child in their anti-Affordable Care Act crusade.

In late November, the following Slafter accusation was all the rage in the national media and conservative blogosphere.

“All we ever heard about Obamacare is that it would lower our deductibles and premiums,” said Jennifer Slafter, 40 of Mabel, Minn. “That’s just not what’s happened.”

The exchange’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan was $1,087 a month with a $6,000 deductible, while a Medica plan was $877 a month with a $12,700 deductible. Both are steeper than their current plan.

Conservatives ate this up.  Type the first few words of that quote into Google, and you’ll see it appearing about 10,400 times in news publications such as CNNMoney and conservative blogs. Slafter was everywhere.

But it turns out that Slafter was a premature poster child.  In paragraph 14 of a 16-paragraph Associated Press follow-up article, we recently learned something new about Slafter’s experience:

Since first going public, (Slafter) said the Fillmore County family found out it is likely eligible for more federal subsidies to help pay for coverage than initially thought. She now doesn’t anticipate the family losing money in the conversion next year.

If you search the first few words of that correction, you see that the article containing the correction appeared three times, buried at the end of a very long article.   As far as I can tell, the correction article does not appear in any of the publications that ran the original article reporting the false claim.

Slafter doesn’t seem to have political motives.  She just was confused by a confusing system and she was sincerely concerned.  It can happen to anyone, and it’s not her fault that she was used as a political pawn by cynical operatives.

Though Slafter’s much publicized assertion that she would be paying more now seems to be  false, she still finds the system too complex and worries about being able to pay the deductibles. I feel her pain on both fronts, though it should be noted that nothing her conservative promoters are offering would help on those two fronts, because they are offering nothing other than the badly broken status quo system.   The best way to reduce complexity for consumers and  remove deductibles would be a single payer payer system, which Slafter’s conservative promoters vehemently oppose.

Again, the false assertion gets over 10,000 placements in the conservative echo chamber, while the correction gets 3 hits in the 14th paragraph of the follow-up article.  As Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also republished on MinnPost.

CliffsNotes On Minnesota’s ACA Implementation Debate

Cliff_s_Notes_ACA_Debate_Implementation-2For those who haven’t been closely following the debate in Minnesota over implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”), here are  CliffsNotes to get you up-to-speed.

Minnesota conservatives, whose presidential standard bearer’s greatest policy achievement was successfully pioneering the use of insurance exchanges in Massachusetts, desperately tried to stop the Minnesota liberals from implementing the federal Affordable Care Act’s Massachusetts-like insurance exchange, until they later criticized liberals for not making the exchanges effective enough, though they still wanted to eliminate them, even after Minnesota’s exchange produced the lowest premiums in the nation, are now criticizing the liberals for being, well, you know,” flip-floppers.”

Minnesota conservatives are outraged that liberals first wanted to require better health coverage for individuals imperiled by junk policies that don’t cover the type of preventative care services needed to avert expensive and lethal health problems, but then supported restoration of the old junk policies when the junk plan ban was criticized, but later decided to ban the junk policies after all, because they learned that banning them was unpopular with the insurance industry.

Make sense now?

– Loveland

MN GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Demand Target and Best Buy Shutdown Their Online Retailing

Target_Missoni_crashMinneapolis, Minn. — Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidates today demanded that home state retailers Target and Best Buy  pull out of online marketing because of serious technical meltdowns associated with their respective commercial websites.

The Republican candidates’ criticism of the local private retailers was consistent with harsh criticism they have leveled at the government-run website, Minnesota’s new online venue for comparing and purchasing private insurance policies offered in association with the federal Affordable Care Act.  A Minnesota Department of Commerce analysis finds that MnSure offers the lowest prices in the nation and has proven to be a popular destination for Minnesotans, but MnSure website visitors have also been subjected to frustrating delays and bugs.

The three Republican candidates ordinarily stress that  private companies are superior to  government-run initiatives.  But today the candidates pointed out that Minnesota-based Best Buy and Target also experienced MnSure-like launch problems, and therefore also should terminate their online retailing operations.

In September 2011, Target Corporation was publicly humiliated when its website crashed during a crucial launch of  a much anticipated Missoni-designed clothing line, infuriating its  customers.  At the time, a New York Times article noted:

The site was wiped out for most of the day; the company said that demand for items was higher than it was on a typical day after Thanksgiving, and that is usually the biggest shopping day of the year.

A few months later in 2011,  sheepish Best Buy officials had to notify customers that it would not be able to fill their orders in time for Christmas, because the electronics retail giant had underestimated the initial demand for its products. USA Today reported:

The largest U.S. specialty electronics retailer said late Wednesday that overwhelming demand for some products from has led to a problem redeeming online orders made in November and December.

The Minneapolis company declined Thursday to specify how many orders are affected or which products are out of stock.

“I would do anything I could to end them,” said Minnesota Senator Dave Thompson, said of Best Buy and Target.

“I don’t believe it can be fixed,” added Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson about the retail giants’ glitches.

“It just isn’t going to work,” agreed former Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers.

Note:  This post is satirical, and not true.  Though the quotes above are the exact words the candidates used about MnSure in August 2013, the candidates have not, to the best of our knowledge, made the same demands of Best Buy and Target.

This post was featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs, and republished on MinnPost.