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Health-exchange board ‘diversity’ is top priority for Dayton

By the end of April, he must appoint six members to the board, which will oversee Minnesota’s online marketplace for health insurance.

Gov. Mark Dayton: “We want a diversity of people on the board. We want people who each bring their own special expertise."
MinnPost file photo by James Nord

For Gov. Mark Dayton and the commissioners and staff advising him, “diversity” has been the key word when discussing appointments to the board of MNsure, the state’s new health insurance exchange.

By the end of April, Dayton must name six members to the board, which will oversee an online marketplace where one in five Minnesotans are expected to find health insurance.

Applications, which were available to all Minnesotans as part of the open appointments process, ended last week.

There are about 115 who have applied, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

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Some noted names appear among the applicants, including Lynn Blewett, a University of Minnesota public health expert; Stephen Schondelmeyer, a U of M pharmacy expert; Philip Cryan, who served on the exchange advisory task force as a union representative; and Mohamud Noor, a former state Senate candidate.

Board members will oversee how more than 1.3 million individuals and small businesses access health insurance and have some discretion over coverage options listed on the exchange.

The exchange legislation offers guidance on the experience board members should have.

The short list

Dayton administration officials have been reviewing applicants to make a short list for the governor to interview and eventually select. His choices must also be approved by the Legislature.

So far, choosing candidates who have a wide range of experience and ideas has been at the top of the governor’s criteria.

“We want a diversity of people on the board,” Dayton said Tuesday afternoon. “We want people who each bring their own special expertise, and it’s a small board … so everyone’s going to have to have a high level of expertise and a different perspective.”

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter, who is overseeing the exchange implementation, agrees that diversity is “hugely important.”

Dayton said he has conferred with Schowalter and Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, among others.

Lawmakers outlined these guidelines for board members in the enabling legislation, and applicants specify which category they are applying for:

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  • One Representative of Consumers eligible for individual coverage (Initial Term is 2 years)
  • One Representative of Consumers eligible for Public Health Coverage (4 years)
  • One Small Employer Representative (2 years)
  • One Health Administration & Finance Representative (4 years)
  • One Public Health Program Representative (3 years)
  • One Representative of Health Policy Issues related to Small Group and Individual Markets (3 years)

 Jesson in her agency role is the only member of the board designated in the exchange legislation.

Dayton, who said he was looking for reasonable, rational and well-informed people when he signed the bill into law, turned to her and joked, “You fit that, right?”

Heavy workload ahead

Jesson told MinnPost in a recent interview that board members should expect a heavy workload in the next six to eight months as the state rushes to meet federal deadlines and establish the exchange. It needs to begin enrolling people in October and be fully operational by January.

Exchange staff members are racing to finish the marketplace’s IT infrastructure and ensure connections with plans that want to offer coverage and with the federal government. They also are working on rules for navigators and in-person assistance staff, which could be the board’s first piece of business to tackle.

Jesson said the board is responsible for ensuring that the exchange runs efficiently for both enrollees and taxpayers.

Board members will be paid $30,000 for the first two years and, after that, receive a per diem and expense reimbursement when they are working on board activities.

Jesson said the governor is looking for not only cultural diversity, but geographic, as well.

“The needs in rural Minnesota often can be very different than we have in the metro, so I think having a greater Minnesota [representative] — someone with that background — is going to be important,” she said.

She pointed to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is overseeing the $975 million Vikings stadium project, as a good example of how the MNsure board should work.

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“I think the governor really appointed a great group of people, a very diverse group of people, but people with a lot of expertise and breadth of experience,” she said. “I think that is a good example of the way Mark Dayton goes about selecting board members for … critical new projects.”

There are conflict-of-interest standards that block those currently working in the insurance industry from the board — a huge point of contention between business groups and progressive organizers during the legislative process.

Republican lawmakers also criticized the board for not being accountable to a state agency or the Legislature for the exchange’s budget.

Democrats who backed the bill argued that the law provides plenty of legislative oversight.

So far, the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has listed the required economic-interest forms for about 60 of the 115 or so applicants.

Dayton, noting that there are many more qualified applicants than available spots, stressed the need for an engaged membership.

“We need a strong board. We need a very active board. We need a very talented board, to make sure this is a success.”