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Supreme Court ruling could mean the end of MNsure

Plus: MLS boss talks Minneapolis soccer stadium; Public Utilities Commission limits solar energy program; Minnesota’s population now almost 5.5 million; and more.

U.S. Supreme Court

With yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, Obamacare seems set in granite (despite Congress’s next 40 votes to repeal it). But here in Minnesota, the Strib’s Christopher Snowbeck says: “The health care act’s big win at the U.S. Supreme Court could mean the eventual end of MNsure. Republicans at the Legislature this year called for switching to, the exchange operated by the federal government for 34 states, because of technical problems at MNsure and questions about its finances. DFLers countered that any such move would be unwise before Thursday’s ruling, since the high court could have blocked tax credits issued through the federal exchange. Now, the federal option is back on the table, said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood … .”

At MPR, Mark Zdechlik writes, “HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd said she welcomes the Supreme Court’s ruling. But she said it does not mean all is well with the Affordable Care Act in Minnesota. ‘The individual market in Minnesota definitely has some problems,’ she said. (Brainerd is an MPR board member.) Minnesotans with expensive conditions figure heavily in those problems, Brainerd said. Before last year, 26,000 high-risk Minnesotans were only able to buy coverage through a subsidized state-sponsored program. Those subsidies came from charges spread across a broad sector of the health insurance market. Today, people with expensive medical problems are in an insurance pool with a scant 6 percent of all covered Minnesotans … .”

Adds Pat Kessler at WCCO-TV, “And state Republican leaders are calling for an immediate halt to any more spending on MNsure, the state’s health care exchange. ‘There’s no reason to continue throwing good money after bad at this point,’ Minnesota State Rep. Tara Mack said. Top Minnesota Republicans, like Mack — chair of the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee — say they are pushing to stop an imminent infusion of up to $90 million more into the once-troubled website.”

In her collection of comments from local politicians, Allison Sherry of the Strib has these: “Rep. John Kline, Republican: ‘Today’s decision does not change the fact that the law is fundamentally flawed, and it doesn’t change our resolve to repeal it. Our nation desperately needs a patient-centered health care system, one that provides working families and employers more choices, greater flexibility and affordable coverage’. … “Rep. Erik Paulsen, Republican: ‘We still need better patient-centered solutions to help families that face barriers in accessing affordable, quality care’.” I believe that echo you hear is called “caucus speak”.

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At Barron’s, Johanna Bennett says, “If struck down, many feared that millions of Americans would lose their insurance policies, causing an income drop for health insurers. Yet the hospital stocks are the ones flying today. Tenet (THC), Community Health Systems (CYH), HCA (HCA) and Universal Health Services (UHS) are climbing 11.5%, 10%, 8.3% and 7% respectably, while Aetna (AET), UnitedHealth (UNH), Cigna (CI) and Anthem (ANTM) are up 1.6%, 2.4%, 0.5% and 0.3% respectively.” I think that means we can stop worrying about them.

Speaking of billion-dollar fortunes, Kyle McCarthy at FoxSoccer writes, “MLS commissioner Don Garber reinforced his desire to see the expansion group in Minnesota present a stadium plan before a proposed July 1 deadline on Thursday. Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire and his partners are in the midst of searching for the right deal to build a soccer-specific stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Their efforts to build a privately financed, $120 million stadium in the West Loop neighborhood took a hit when the Minnesota Legislature adjourned in May without reaching an agreement on the club’s bid for tax relief and economic development tools.”

Until Lynyrd Skynyrd plays here again, this may be our most prominent Confederate battle flag. Buoa Xiong of KARE-TV files a story, saying, “While the nation debates the symbolism of the confederate flag, the significance of the one housed at the Minnesota Historical Society lies in its century old story. ‘It really does resonate with a lot of our visitors,’ senior curator Adam Scher said of the battle flag. The flag was obtained at the turning point of the civil war. Private Marshall Sherman of the First Minnesota Infantry captured the flag during Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. He turned the flag into the war department in Washington and it was marked for inventory, according to Scher. Little did Sherman know he would soon get it back.” Freebird!

Speaking of worrying, Xcel doesn’t care for the competition. Says Dave Shaffer in the Strib, “Minnesota utility regulators on Thursday set limits on a new consumer-driven solar energy program in response to Xcel Energy Inc.’s complaint that it had ballooned beyond what a state law intended. In a contentious, retroactive clarification of the rules, the state Public Utilities Commission restricted independent energy companies to clusters of five community solar gardens, each with a maximum output of one megawatt. A megawatt is 1 million watts of electricity. The decision, after two days of hearings, removes a major uncertainty for the solar industry, but it undercuts some companies’ plans for cost-saving clusters of 10 or more projects.”

Meanwhile, Savers is beginning to make good. MPR’s Tim Nelson reports, “The Savers thrift chain has agreed to pay $1.8 million to several Minnesota charities and make its operations more transparent to settle a dispute with Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. The attorney general sued Savers in May, alleging that the company was misleading donors and that proceeds from only clothing donations were going to charities like the Disabled American Veterans, the Epilepsy Foundation and others. Household items and other donations were simply being sold for a profit, the attorney general reported. The deal also requires Savers to better disclose who will benefit from donations, among other things.”

Enjoyin’ my Second Amendment rights with the family. Emily Welker of the Forum News Service reports, “A Felton, Minn., man is accused of shooting his 22-month-old daughter in the leg after handling his gun in dim lighting after drinking 12 beers. … At the hospital, Rocha told detectives he’d been sitting on the floor near the bed cleaning his handgun by the light of a portable lamp at about 4:30 a.m. when it went off as he was putting it away, hitting the child, who was asleep in the bed with his wife.”

There are now almost 5.5 million of us. Marino Eccher’s PiPress story says, “The census figures, estimated as of July 2014, put the state at about 5,457,000 people overall — up 2.9 percent since the 2010 census. All race groups counted saw growth, but the state added four times as many people of color as whites, said Andi Egbert, assistant director of the State Demographic Center. That puts Minnesota at more than 1 million people of color — just shy of 20 percent of the population. Ramsey County (30 percent people of color) and Hennepin County (24 percent) are among the most diverse in the state. But suburban counties in the seven-county metro area are rapidly changing. Black residents are still a small sliver of the population in Dakota and Washington counties, for instance, but were up 21 percent and 24 percent respectively.”

Walker Watch. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff takes another looking at the Gov. Scott Walker’s claim that, “It’s working.” “In 2011, newly elected Governor Walker replaced the Wisconsin Department of Commerce with a public-private partnership called (you guessed it!) the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, or WEDC. Walker had won the gubernatorial race a few months prior by campaigning on a promise to create 250,000 jobs in the state over the course of his first term. WEDC (commonly pronounced ‘weed-ick’) was supposed to help the state reach that goal and to trim some of the bureaucratic fat that existed in the commerce department. But Wisconsin only got about 147,000 of those 250,000 promised jobs. And WEDC had serious growing pains, to say the least. A May 2013 audit from the Legislative Audit Bureau had troublesome findings, including that between 2011 and 2013, WEDC gave out $124.4 million in awards without formal staff reviews. … Mark Maley, WEDC’s public information manager, said that campaign contributions don’t impact award disbursement. ‘Regarding the recipients of WEDC awards, there is no way to make this any clearer: Political affiliation and campaign contributions absolutely play no role in determining which companies receive awards from WEDC,’ he told the Beast.” What cynical SOB would even think of such a thing?