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Strib: Scrutinize Blue Cross Medicaid payments

Voter ID passage draws NYT scorn; rare ruling on health benefits; June primary plan advances; another Arden Hills stadium plan; DeLaSalle marriage talk goes national; and more.

The Strib editorializes about the nice $73 million refund from HMOs but still wants a full investigation of Medicaid charges, particularly those involving Blue Cross: “The $73 million windfall is momentarily reassuring, but serious questions remain about the repayment and, more importantly, about state and federal oversight of the Medicaid program. Problems in Minnesota may indicate inadequate Medicaid management in other states. Two separate federal investigations are still scrutinizing Minnesota’s Medicaid program. Key questions include whether the state is overpaying the health plans and whether the state has improperly used federal money to subsidize state-only medical programs. … [The] process should first tackle the repayment by Blue Cross, which gave back $9 million, or 12 percent of the $73 million repayment by the four plans. Yet Blue Cross had 21 percent of enrollees of the state’s biggest Medicaid managed-care program and 38 percent of its MinnesotaCare enrollees. HealthPartners, with much smaller market shares in these two programs, gave back $31 million. Medica contributed $25 million, while UCare added $8 million to its $30 million giveback.”

The GOP’s Voter ID amendment has been approved — on largely party-line votes — and is already generating some terrific press for Minnesota. Under the headline “Voter Suppression, Again, in Minnesota This Time,” The New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal writes: “The Justice Department has been fighting discriminatory voter ID requirements and other ballot-blocking measures around the country, with some success. Some courts have been doing their job too by striking down some of these laws. So the Minnesota Republicans who form that state’s Senate majority decided to take another route – amend the state’s constitution to make it harder for people to vote. The Senate voted 35-29 today for a proposed amendment that would require all voters at the polls to show a photo ID, stiffen eligibility requirements for registration and limit acceptable ID forms to ‘government issued’ ones. (That last measure makes it harder for students; their college ID would not be valid.) The supposed aim of this sort of law is to cut down on voter fraud, but as I’ve said before, that is a virtually non-existent problem. We do have a problem with government officials manipulating the vote at times, but these requirements will not affect those cases.”

There’s been a court ruling on a case almost as rare as voter fraud. Dan Browning of the Strib writes: “A Red Wing resident who underwent a sex-change operation to become a woman and then married a man is entitled to medical benefits under her husband’s health plan, a federal judge in Minneapolis has ruled. Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled Tuesday that the health plan administrator for a United Parcel Service employee erred when it denied coverage to his transgender spouse on the theory that Minnesota law bars same-sex marriages. Davis found in a 37-page order that the employee benefit plan had imposed its own definitions of gender and marriage on the plan’s participants in violation of Minnesota laws.” Now, if the couple divorces and the guy turns around and marries a turtle …

Minnesota’s primary may be moving up from August to June. Says Tom Scheck at MPR: “The Minnesota House passed legislation today that would shift the August primary to early June. The House approved the measure on a 66-65 vote. The measure was amended to a broader elections bill that also passed. The backers of the June primary say it will increase voter turnout. ‘This is good government because it will increase participation in the primary,’ Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. ‘I think that our August primary is a time when [Minnesotans] are on vacations and not really attune to what’s going on with the primary elections.’ The Senate would need to go along with the change. Gov. Dayton’s spokeswoman, Katharine Tinucci, said Dayton has long supported moving the primary to June. If the proposal is enacted, it would take effect in 2013.”

So who can remember the glory days of Arden Hills? Tim Nelson, also at MPR, gets in the Way Back Machine and says: “Ramsey County is making another bid to get back in the stadium race. Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, said he’s offering a bill that would put a new Vikings stadium back at the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site in Arden Hills. This comes two months after Gov. Mark Dayton ruled out any option but rebuilding where the Metrodome now stands. Mahoney said the deal would offer a $300 million local share, with $100 million financed by a 2 percent suburban food, beverage and hotel tax. ‘And that money that’s raised from that tax will be used to fix up the roads around the site, which includes 35E,’ Mahoney said. ‘So the citizens money is not going to the Vikings. It’s going to fix up the roads.’ That $100 million infrastructure cost tanked the Arden Hills plan last year. A referendum threat didn’t help much either. Mahoney said he’ll solve that, and put the plan on the ballot ‘so the citizens get a chance to vote.’ Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, the chief proponent of the Arden Hills site, said the plan should not be counted out. ‘We haven’t died,’ Bennett said. ‘Sometimes the possum has to stay hidden for a while. We’re not getting any answers out of Minneapolis, other than they’re being told they can do what we can’t. So we’ll wait and see how this plays out.’ “

Speaking of glowing national press … At The Huffington Post, John Becker picks up on Jon Tevlin’s Strib column about DeLaSalle kids getting the mandatory anti-gay marriage lecture. He says: “Even among the virulently anti-gay American bishops, Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt stands out. More than perhaps any other prelate in the country (with possible competition from New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan), Nienstedt has turned the fight against marriage equality into an all-out crusade. He’s inserted a prayer for marriage discrimination into the Catholic Mass; turned that church’s holiest sacrament into a weapon against LGBT people; ordered his priests to organize grassroots political committees in their parishes — at parish expense — for the express purpose of drumming up support for Minnesota’s proposed constitutional marriage discrimination amendment; and essentially told those same priests that if they opposed the Minnesota Catholic Church’s war on LGBT people, couples, and families, they had darn well better keep their traps shut about it. … thanks to Jon Tevlin of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, we know that these mandatory marriage discrimination lectures are indeed taking place at Catholic schools across the archdiocese. But in at least some of those schools, students are very unhappy about being forcibly subjected to such a decidedly un-Christian message.”

Steve Sviggum has been officially replaced as a U of M regent. Mila Koumpilova of the PiPress reports: “University of Minnesota graduate and longtime U booster Thomas Devine will join the school’s Board of Regents next month. A majority of legislators in a joint House and Senate convention Wednesday … backed Devine, a Chanhassen resident and insurance firm executive. He landed the vacant 2nd Congressional District seat on the board in a 110-75 vote over Robert Vogel.
The father of a U freshman and a high school senior who applied to the U last fall, Devine vowed to bring a student perspective to the 12-member board, with a slate of concerns that include rising tuition and campus housing shortages. ‘I am very much in tune with the student experience,’ said Devine, co-owner of the Edina-based David Agency.”

Just in case you wondered … No, you can’t use campaign funds to pay speeding tickets. In the PiPress, Megan Boldt writes: “Rep. Ernie Liediger’s campaign treasurer was fined $300 for using campaign funds to pay for a speeding ticket the Republican lawmaker received while driving back from a late-night legislative session. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board’s ruling was released Wednesday … The complaint was filed by Steven Timmer last month. Liediger, of Mayer, tapped his campaign treasury for $178 to pay Hennepin County District Court for a speeding violation committed on March 29, 2011. The board found his campaign improperly reported the payment as a transportation cost under noncampaign disbursement. ‘A speeding ticket is not an activity expected or required of a public official. Payment of a candidate’s fine for a speeding ticket therefore is not an expense for serving in public office,’ according to the board’s findings.” So I suppose a weekend in Vegas is out, too, huh?

Finally, from last week in The Nation, Ari Berman writes on Minnesota and Voter ID: “Voter ID laws have been a top priority of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafted a model voter ID bill for state legislators in 2009. ALEC members sponsored voter ID legislation in five states that passed such laws in 2011. ALEC’s state chairman in Minnesota, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, also happens to be the lead sponsor of Minnesota’s voter ID legislation in the state house. Fifteen ALEC members of the legislature have co-sponsored the bill. Reported the AP: ‘ALEC provided a copy of its voter ID model bill to The Associated Press. Kiffmeyer’s 2011 bill is not identical, though there are several similar sections about ID requirements, counting provisional ballots and issuing a free ID to those over 18 who don’t have a valid driver’s license’. … Kiffmeyer and her fellow Republicans in the legislature have powerful backers in the state’s business community. According to TakeAction [Minnesota], ‘executives from Minnesota’s three largest banks — Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and TCF — led and funded a series of inter-related campaign entities that were instrumental in the Republican takeover of the Legislature that put members of ALEC in the House leadership and placed an attack on the voting rights of Minnesotans at the top of the 2012 legislative agenda.’ These networks of banker-funded groups spent almost $500,000 to elect 25 new Republican legislators in 2008 and 2010 and more than $375,000 for 21 legislators pushing the voter ID amendments.”