Health News Today – 3/17/15

In health news headlines today:

  • House panel votes to disband MNsure
  • Minn. legislators asked to boost nursing home pay
  • Essential Health turns to creativity in rural health care


House panel votes to disband MNsure after story of death (

The debate over MNsure’s future is taking an emotional turn.

A House panel voted Monday to abandon MNsure and move to the federal exchange by 2017. That decision came after one man blamed the exchange for his wife’s death from cancer earlier this year.   Read More…


Minnesota legislature asked to boost nursing home pay (Duluth News Tribune)

Filling staff vacancies is a constant challenge for Nathan J. Johnson.

“I’m sitting with 20 openings right now,” said Johnson, executive director of Ecumen North Branch, a long-term care facility.

Johnson and his counterpart Kyle Hedlund, director of senior services at Bigfork Valley, say they can’t pay their staffs enough to compensate for the hard work and difficult hours that are asked of them.   Read More…


Minnesota’s Essential discovers that in rural medicine, creativity is often the cure (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

To understand the latest challenges of rural medicine, meet Matt Smolen. He has multiple sclerosis, which has spread through his 6-foot-4 frame, stranding him in a wheelchair, slurring his speech and contorting his hands into claws.

Flare-ups of the disease and related bladder infections sent Smolen, 46, to the hospital 17 times between April 2012 and March 2014. Then he enrolled in a research project run by Essentia Health, where nurse Sandi Kari coordinates all his medical care and personal needs.   Read More…

Health News Today – 3/03/15

Today’s headlines:

  • Two Duluth health systems among elite in blood pressure control
  • BCBS of MN nurse accused of accessing patient health records
  • MHA recognizes Mille Lacs hospital/clinic for patient safety
  • Proposed new diet guidelines should be for health, not profit


Duluth duo in elite circle of blood pressure control (Duluth News Tribune)

Thirty health care facilities nationwide have been recognized for helping patients control high blood pressure, and two of them are in Duluth.

Essentia Health and the PS Rudie Medical Clinic were named “2014 Hypertension Control Champions,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To qualify, the clinical practice or health service had to reach hypertension control rates of 70 percent or more.   Read More…


Blue Cross Blue Shield nurse accused of illegally accessing patient records (

A nurse with a history of narcotics theft illegally accessed a state database that contains prescription drug records for 1 million Minnesotans, all under the supervision of government entities that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

A WCCO-TV investigation found that, despite the nurse’s background, he was given access to the database by both the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield.   Read More…


FirstLight Health System recognized for commitment to patient safety (Mille Lacs County Times)

FirstLight Health System is being recognized by the Minnesota Hospital Association for completing a three year patient safety initiative as part of the Partnership for Patients Hospital Engagement Network. Collectively, Minnesota Hospitals and health systems have helped prevent more than 13,000 patients from being harmed and saved more than $93 million as a result of a reduction in hospital-acquired conditions from 2011-2014.
This initiative was set forth that concentrated efforts on reducing the number of incidents directly related to the top ten hospital acquired conditions (HACS).    Read More…


Diet guidelines should be for health, not profit (

A new set of national dietary guidelines is set to be released later this year. As part of the update, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — a panel of nutrition researchers and professionals — released a preliminary report with suggested changes to the current guidelines.

The report has ignited controversy for stating that eating fewer animal products “is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact.” It also recommends limiting added sugar intake. These suggestions have made the report a target for objections from different food industries.   Read More…

Health News Today – 3/02/15

In today’s health news headlines:

  • Veterans receive pain relief through local program
  • Minnesota Business Partnership “scorecard” assesses state of health care
  • Mayo Clinic Health Connection makes health care more accessible
  • Bill may require doctor consult before kids can skip vaccines


Minnesota vets receive pain relief through local program (

Of nearly 400,000 veterans currently living in Minnesota, the Ultimate Wellness Center estimates that one in five may be experiencing service-connected disabilities that cause pain.

The center has a unique way of helping those men and women.   Read More…


Minnesota big businesses assess the state of health care (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

The Minnesota Business Partnership, made up of the chief executives of the state’s largest employers, has long been a clear, respected voice in education policy debates. The release of its new “Minnesota Health Care Performance Scorecard” indicates that the partnership now intends to lend its expertise to health care policy. That’s a welcome development for the state.

After the toxic politics over the federal Affordable Care Act, the scorecard offers the opportunity to move beyond ideology and hit the reset button. It’s a pragmatic, nonpartisan assessment of what works in Minnesota health care and what areas need improvement.   Read More…

Telemedicine: Making health care more accessible (Austin Daily Herald)

Telemedicine has been used by doctors’ offices and hospitals in Minnesota at varying levels for several years. The technology allows rural patients the ability to get the attention and care they need from experts, without traveling long distances. I had the opportunity to meet with Mayo Clinic’s CEO, chief administrative officer and chief nursing officer in Austin to talk about how Mayo is using advancing technology to better treat its patients in our local area.

The Rochester-based health care provider started a new pilot program called the Mayo Clinic Health Connection, which is a private, walk-in kiosk that gives you a convenient new way to receive basic health care.    Read More…


MN bill would require parents talk with doctor before kids skip vaccines (Wadena Pioneer Journal)

Parents could soon be required to talk to a doctor about the risks and benefits of vaccines before they can opt their children out of mandatory vaccination.

That’s the proposal out this week from Rep. Eric Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley. It comes out — by coincidence — a day after a University of Minnesota student came down with measles, a disease once largely eradicated in the United States due to vaccination.  Read More…

Health News Today – 2/26/15

In today’s health news headlines:

  • Coverage mandate for telemedicine in Minnesota bill
  • Hospitals report 308 medical errors in 2015
  • Fergus Falls area strives to attract medical professionals
  • Percent of Minnesotans without health care insurance falls to 7.4%


Paying for telemedicine required under Minnesota bill (Duluth News Tribune)

Forcing insurance companies to pay for telemedicine appointments could bring specialized health care to all parts of Minnesota, hospital officials and lawmakers say.

While some health insurance policies already pay for telemedicine, the use of technology to allow a distance health care professional to examine a patient, state legislation announced Wednesday would require all policies to provide reimbursement.   Read More…


Minnesota struggles to reduce medical errors (

Minnesota hospitals and surgical centers reported 308 medical errors last year that risked patient safety. Errors increased slightly over last year and are still rare, given the state’s 2.6 million patient days.

But for patients on the receiving end of a mistake, the consequences can be severe. Last year 98 patients in Minnesota were seriously injured and another 13 patients died.   Read More…


Area health care entities looking to attract employees (Fergus Falls Journal)

U.S. Sen. Al Franken kicked off a health initiative in December to identify and address health care needs in rural Minnesota communities, and his staff has been making rounds to different towns to hear what their top priorities are and what programs are being offered.

“Our state is known for coming up with innovative solutions to our healthcare problems,” the Democratic Minnesota senator said over a video message at a meeting in Fergus Falls. “I’m very excited to be hearing from experts in ways to improve health care services across the state.”   Read More…

Minnesota’s uninsured rate falls, says survey (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

Minnesota’s already low rate of people without health insurance fell even more over the past year, a survey from Gallup finds.

At the beginning of 2014, just 9.5 percent of Minnesotans lacked health insurance, the fourth-best rate in the country. As of the start of 2015, that uninsured rate is now 7.4 percent, 2.1 percentage points lower.   Read More…

Health News Today – 2/23/15

Today’s headlines:

  • Dept. of Health continues monitoring for Ebola virus
  • Medical marijuana industry unionizes
  • Weight loss and nutrition treatments should be covered under ACA


As Ebola wanes, MN sticks with expensive monitoring program (

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has slowed considerably, but Minnesota continues to vigorously monitor travelers from the region.

For four months, the Minnesota Department of Health has monitored all people arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for signs of Ebola for 21 days.   Read More…


Minnesota’s medical marijuana industry unionizes, needs to expand (

The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union has been one of the strongest political forces working to end cannabis prohibition across the country. The UFCW has unionized medical cannabis workers in California and the union put its considerable political clout into the successful Oregon Measure 91 legalization measure. The UFCW has just announced that they have unionized one of Minnesota’s medical production facilities and is in talks to unionize the other facility.   Read More…


MN should help cover obesity treatments (

The Affordable Care Act, known better as “ObamaCare,” has implemented yet another measure of health care reform. As of the beginning of 2015, Americans will have the option to switch over to health care plans that cover obesity treatment. Among the services included are weight loss programs, bariatric surgery — used on the stomach to induce weight loss — and nutrition counseling.   Read More…

MNsure must defend itself against Legislative Auditor report

By Chuck Grothaus

MNsure, the Minnesota health insurance exchange, is now in its second year of enrolling Minnesotans in health plans so more residents have access to the health coverage they need. On Feb. 17, a state Legislative Auditor report was issued critiquing MNsure’s first year of operation. What’s wrong with the auditor’s report?

Let’s take a quick look at the summary of the state report (you can view the summary here):

  1. The report analyzes MNsure’s first year of operation (Oct. 2013 – Sept. 2014).
  2. The report fails to address the multitude of enhancements and improvements MNsure leadership has made since it launched the MNsure website in 2013.
  3. The report points the finger at federal government’s slow release of rules and guidelines for state exchanges as part of the issue MNsure faced in its roll out.
  4. The report states that MNsure failed to provide adequate customer service during its initial year of operation.

There are several more criticisms of MNsure’s roll out found in the Legislative Auditor’s report. But to better understand the actual creation of MNsure, here are a few important dates to consider:

  • March 2010: The Affordable Care Act is signed into law by President Obama.
  • September 2011: Gov. Dayton directs the Minnesota Department of Commerce to create the state’s health exchange.
  • August 2012: Vendors selected to build the state health exchange web platform.
  • April 2013: MNsure board formally appointed by Gov. Dayton.
  • September 2013: MNsure website approved to connect with federal data hub.
  • October 2013: MNsure public launch.

As evidenced by this brief timeline, MNsure faced a slew of management challenges by the mere fact that it had no governing board until just six months before its public launch! What’s more, the Legislative Auditor failed to note the operational adjustments MNsure made throughout its first few months of operation.

In a response to the report written by MNsure’s chief executive, Scott Leitz, the positive impact MNsure had on Minnesotans enrolling in health insurance are noted. Leitz writes:

Since October 1, 2013, the uninsured rate in Minnesota has dropped by 40 percent to less than five percent. Now, 95 percent of Minnesotans have comprehensive, affordable health insurance coverage.


Second, MNsure has been instrumental in the enrollment of hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans in comprehensive, affordable health coverage. Many of those who enrolled had previously not had health insurance coverage. MNsure has added competition to the insurance market and transparency to price comparison which, combined, drive down costs for Minnesotans. This is evidence of success.

Furthermore, MNsure has made dramatic improvements to the consumer experience in less than 24 months of operation. MNsure has completed its second open enrollment period and in contrast to year one–


  • Consumers are enrolling through the website with relative ease.
  • Call volume is high and call wait times are on average less than five minutes.
  • A robust statewide network of navigators, brokers and other assisters is in place to helpconsumers enroll.
  • Consumers are saving money. Minnesotans who enrolled in qualified health plans saved over$30 million as a result of tax credits on health insurance plans sold through MNsure.
  • We have a stong, multi-agency project management team and decision-making process inplace to set priorities.
  • We have a deep commitment to transparency and accountability.
  • We are listening, and our partners and stakeholders are informed and engaged with us as wecontinue to grow and improve.

Interestingly, the vast majority of local media attention of this legislative auditor report is focused on criticisms of the launch of MNsure, which happened nearly 18 months ago – not the efforts MNsure staff made to improve and enhance the website, address customer issues and complaints, and smooth the enrollment process.

The bottom line: MNsure benefits Minnesotans by providing a health insurance exchange offering choice and price competition. Health insurance companies may be lobbying state representatives to make sweeping changes to MNsure, but when just 5% of Minnesotans are now “uninsured” it’s difficult to say MNsure’s plug should be pulled.

Health News Today – 2/18/15

In today’s health-related news:

  • Legislative Auditor criticizes MNsure roll-out in 2013
  • Mesothelioma found in 21 more ex-Iron Range miners
  • How many nurses is enough?


Legislative auditor: “We think MNsure performed badly” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

An expansive new study that chronicles MNsure’s troubled debut concludes that failures outweighed achievements in the health insurance exchange’s first year.

The report that Legislative Auditor James Nobles delivered Tuesday is the most thorough government review to date of MNsure’s initial shortcomings. It documents issues with MNsure’s online enrollment system and customer service, plus a lack of testing before the system debuted in October 2013.   Read More…

Click to read full Legislative Auditor Report.


Health officials: Mesothelioma found in 21 more ex-Iron Range miners (

State health officials say they’ve identified another 21 cases of mesothelioma in former iron mine workers in northeastern Minnesota.

The new cases of the rare cancer were discovered in a group of 69,000 mine workers tracked by the Health Department and the University of Minnesota since the late 1990s. It brings the total number of cases in that group to 101.   Read More…


Nursing by the numbers: How many nurses is enough (

Lower nursing levels are linked to high patient death rates. That’s the finding of a new Minnesota health study. But how many nurses are enough? Who gets to decide? And how much are we willing to pay? That answer, depends on who you ask.

A 2-year-study by the Minnesota Department of Health found a higher number of shift nurses correlates with lower patient mortality, reduced patient falls, and fewer drug administration errors.   Read More…

Health News Today – 2/16/15

Today’s health news headlines:

  • Vaccine opt-out rates higher in smaller school districts
  • If you don’t have health insurance by now, you’ll be taxed
  • U of M says medicine and robotics go together like bread and butter


Vaccine opt-out rates higher in smaller school districts (Wadena Pioneer Journal)

Most Minnesota students go to schools with very high vaccination rates, but a few small districts have clusters of unvaccinated children.

Minnesota law requires students to be vaccinated but allows parents to opt out of the requirement for medical or philosophical objections. Overall, fewer than three percent of Minnesota kindergarteners opted out of all vaccines last year, but some school districts have no unvaccinated students while one charter school had 20 percent of its small class opt out last year.   Read More…


People without health insurance in 2015 face harsh penalties (

If you do not have health care insurance by midnight on Sunday, you will face harsh tax penalties.

The penalties include a two percent fine on your yearly household income or a fine of $325 per adult and $162 per child, whichever amount is greater.   Read More…


Robotics: The necessary future of medicine (

It seems that technological advancements in medicine are happening daily. Companies and universities alike are advancing the pace at which we are improving the quality of health care for many people.

However, the importance of robotics seems to be incredibly undersold in its importance to medicine. Instead, robotic medicine should be at the forefront of science.   Read More…

Health News Today – 2/13/15

Today’s health news headlines:

  • MNsure says residents not yet enrolled are running out of time
  • Ham Lake state senator suggests splitting up MNsure
  • Vikings owner donates $5M to Masonic Children’s Hospital
  • Vaccines are safe. The science is settled.


MNsure on enrollment: ‘We have our work cut out for us’ (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

People who want to avoid the tax for lacking health insurance this year are running out of time.

The state’s MNsure exchange says more people are calling with questions about coverage, and visiting the MNsure website, in advance of Sunday’s deadline for buying private policies for 2015.  Read More…

GOP bill would halve Minnesota health exchange (

A Republican state senator wants to split Minnesota’s health insurance exchange into two separate entities.

MNsure currently signs up residents in private plansand public programs like MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance. Sen. Michelle Benson unveiled a bill Thursday that would split those up.   Read More…


Wilf family donates $5 million to Minnesota hospital (Duluth News Tribune)

The owners of the Minnesota Vikings announced a major foray into Minnesota philanthropy Wednesday, a Wilf Family Center at the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.

The $5 million center, unveiled Wednesday, features an auditorium and high-tech conference rooms. It marks a significant leap into Minnesota philanthropy for the New Jersey-based Wilf Family Foundation, which has focused on causes in New York and New Jersey.   Read More…


Taking a shot (Chaska Herald) 

Carol Wentworth glances around the Carver County Public Health office for some wood to knock on as she talks about the singular case of measles recently reported at the University of Minnesota.

“We consider one case an outbreak,” the public health nurse explained.

Healthcare workers aren’t the only ones taking the threat of measles seriously. It turns out, one case in Minnesota, coupled with more than 100 cases around the United States, is enough to get the public’s attention, too.   Read More…

Health News Today – 2/10/15

Your health headlines:

  • It’s tax season – time to report your health insurance coverage
  • Battle over nurse staffing ratio continues
  • A simpler approach to health care


Health care law adds new wrinkle to tax season (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

This tax season offers a new wrinkle as individual filers must report to the IRS whether they had health insurance during 2014.

The requirement brings a new task for MNsure, too, since the state’s health insurance exchange must send more than 30,000 tax forms to people who bought private coverage last year.   Read More…

Battles over hospital-wide nurse staffing rations persist (

State health policy analysts in Massachusetts and Minnesota are fighting new battles in the ongoing war between hospitals and organized nurses over staffing ratios.

A law requiring 1:1 and 1:2 nurse-to-patient ratio in intensive care units went into effect in Massachusetts in September. But health researchers in Minnesota were unable to complete a study looking at the relationship between nursing levels and patient outcomes in their state.   Read More…


A simpler approach to health care: Part 1 (

We are medical students who have devoted eight years of our lives to educating and training ourselves, along with three to seven more years of training left for our chosen specialty.

We don’t put ourselves through all of that because we have a penchant for staying in school, purchasing expensive textbooks and accruing student loans — we do it so we will be able to properly take care of our future patients.   Read More…