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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 22 2014

MNsure supporters see improvement in exchange

MNsure rolled out commercials with real people talking about how the state-run health insurance marketplace helped them.

And a key MNsure supporter promoted a study showing that Minnesota policies are less expensive than in other states.

It is a campaign to draw attention to successes and away from months of bad news, news such as computer problems, impossibly long waits for help and a system that never told some people if their attempts to get coverage succeeded.

State Rep. Tom Huntley, D-Duluth, issued a news release promoting a Kaiser Health News Service report that indicated five of the 10 least expensive health insurance markets in America are in Minnesota.

The cheapest mid-range plan cost about $259 a month in many regional insurance markets, Huntley said, but those in the Twin Cities market could buy plans at $159. Similar plans in the St. Cloud area go for $166, in northwestern Minnesota for $171 and west-central and north-central counties for $180.

Huntley said that an average 40-year-old in the Twin Cities will pay $154 a month for a mid-range plan, while a similar Wisconsin plan would cost three times more. While Minnesota opted to establish its own health insurance marketplace, Wisconsin is using one run by the federal government.

“This study just proves that Minnesota is making the right decisions when it comes to providing access to quality health care,” Huntley said.

While Huntley praised MNsure, the agency announced that more than 100,000 Minnesotans have enrolled in insurance through it.

Minnesotans have until March 31 to sign up during open enrollment. For the rest of the year, people may sign up if they have a qualifying event such as losing a job. Otherwise, open enrollment will return in the fall.

Of the 100,000, two-thirds are in government-subsidized programs, with MNsure their only option to get coverage. Just 31,000 Minnesotans have signed up for private plans.

MNsure’s new round of commercials touts successes that have not been heard among the problems. One features a women with a brain tumor who says she obtained affordable insurance via MNsure.

Economy on his mind

President Barack Obama will talk about the economy Wednesday when he visits the Twin Cities.

As usual with the White House, few details were released immediately, but with his budget proposal coming out soon, the feeling is that there could be a connection.

Obama has made several other recent visits to locations where he stopped at businesses and praised an improving economy.

The Democratic president is coming to a state where he is not as popular as he once was. A new Star Tribune poll shows 43 percent of Minnesota votes approve of his job, compared to 62 percent in April of 2009.

He visited Minnesota year ago to lobby for gun control legislation, which later failed in Congress.

There will be howling

Wolf Day at the Minnesota Capitol is sure to attract attention.

Rallies in the Capitol rotunda generally are about money issues, but the Howling for Wolves organization is sponsoring the Thursday event in a large part to ask the state to curtail wolf hunting.

“The wolf hunt is an elective and recreational activity, and not intended to control the wolf population,” said Maureen Hackett, founder of the organization. “By failing to establish how many wolves die of all causes, including not performing a baseline wolf survey before the hunt, the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has chosen to ignore sound scientific methods.”

Bullying bill draws rally

The organization that won last year’s gay marriage debate is turning its attention to efforts to curb school bullying.

Outfront Minnesota, the state’s major pro-gay organization, plans to fight those who do not support the anti-bullying measure. The group is collecting signatures on a petition and will be part of a “safe schools rally” in the Capitol on March 3.

“Because of your support and involvement, we won marriage equality here in Minnesota last year,” Outfront wrote to supporters in an email. “Now, we need you to show up again at the Capitol to get the bill passed now.”

State Sen. Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said she recently attended a gathering to discuss the issue and was happy to see middle school and high school students there.

“A 10th grader bravely stood before the audience and told her story of having been bullied,” Kent said. “Her dad spoke after her, and every parent in the room hurt with him as he described the pain and frustration of watching his child struggle.”

But Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said school districts do not like the proposal. He said he visited nine districts in his area and officials said they already have anti-bullying policies.

“It will do nothing but to pass on costs,” Gazelka said was the message school officials gave him.

A tough video decision

Plenty of videos are available to watch online.

But Minnesotans have an especially tough decision between two: a YouTube video at http://youtu.

be/jUFBa-AFZCc with legislative leaders answering reporters’ questions for 90 minutes or a live video at www.webcams.dnr.state.

mn.us/eagle of an eagle’s nest, providing the potential of seeing cute baby eagles at some point.

Well, maybe it is not such a tough decision, but there is plenty of time before baby eagles emerge to watch legislative leaders. The Forum News Service-sponsored forum, minus Gov. Mark Dayton after his surgery, hits on many topics that will arise during the legislative session that begins Tuesday and must end no later than May 19. Senate Media Services produced the video.

The eagle cam, meanwhile, just went live at a nest from an undisclosed Twin Cities location.

Department of Natural Resources biologists say they think it is the same pair of birds that used the nest last year, when their eggs did not hatch. The eggs probably froze last year, and the two eggs that had been laid at last report face bitterly cold weather in the next few days.