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 – 2/10/15

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…

Health News Today – 1/20/15

In today’s health news headlines from around Minnesota:

  • Health care contributes mightily to busting state’s budget
  • Analysis shows health care law is working
  • Med device tax repeal might benefit companies in more ways than one
  • Study sheds little light on nurse staffing numbers


Minnesota’s budget busters include K-12, health care (Duluth News Tribune)

When Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton proposes a budget later this month, he’s likely to talk a lot about transportation, workforce development and child care tax credits.

But the shape of his budget already will have been determined by a long, slow process: the gradual, inexorable domination of Minnesota’s spending by K-12 education and health care programs.  Read More…


Four charts that show the health care law is working (

The Affordable Care Act appears to be doing what it was supposed to do, a new report says.

The Commonwealth Fund’s health care annual report says fewer Americans are reporting being burdened by the cost of accessing health care.   Read More…


Tax repeal could give medical firms double windfall (

Republicans and many Democrats in Congress want to repeal the roughly $3 billion-a-year tax on medical devices that’s part of the Affordable Care Act. Undoing the tax will mean a big boost in profits for the industry.

But there’s another business windfall buried in the bills that Congress is considering. Not only would the future tax be repealed, but the taxes already collected would be refunded. Any company that had paid the tax would get its money back.   Read More…


For Minnesota nurses, staffing study provides few answers (Rochester Post-Bulletin) 

A long-awaited study on nurse staffing levels at Minnesota hospitals has prompted fresh division between nurses and their employers.

The Minnesota Nurses Association had hoped the state’s study would help nail down firm patient-to-nurse ratios. But the research didn’t find cause and effect in staffing levels and patient outcomes.   Read More…

Health News Today – Dec. 9, 2015

In health news from around the state today:

  • St. Joseph, Minn., company gets birth control exemption
  • State Rep. Joe Atkins says health care workers must be trained to protect themselves
  • Mayo Clinic sees big data as crucial to remain an elite medical institution
  • Medical center looks to improve chronic disease care
  • Recovery center might replace jail for mentally ill offenders


MN business gets OK to exclude birth control from health plans (Minnesota Public Radio)

A central Minnesota business has won state court approval to exclude birth control from its employees’ health insurance plans.

American Mfg Co., which makes mud pumps and pump parts, sought a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act mandate, which requires contraceptive coverage in employers’ health plans. The St. Joseph-based company won a preliminary injunction in 2013.   Read More…


Lawmaker seeks to lower violence against health care workers (

A Minnesota lawmaker is proposing much tougher state penalties for violence against health care workers.

The move comes after a high profile attack at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood by a patient who beat four nurses with a metal bar he removed from a bed.   Read More…


Mayo seeks to dominate with data (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

The patients arrive at the Mayo Clinic from all over the world, thousands a day, each presenting a different medical challenge.

Some have illnesses so rare that even medical journals don’t offer a time-tested treatment plan. Others bring a complicated combination of ailments — diabetes with heart failure and kidney disease — that offer conflicting treatment options.   Read More…


New Ulm looks to improve chronic disease care; cut hospital costs (Mankato Free Press)

The New Ulm Medical Center will hire two registered nurses and a social worker to focus on connecting with patients who have chronic diseases, a move the center hopes will reduce emergency-department visits and ultimately save money.

The registered nurses and social worker will work closely with the center’s primary-care teams to identify patients who are not at optimal care and who may not be seen on a regular enough basis to address the issues.   Read More…


Recovery center could replace jail for mentally ill offenders (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Troubled by years of horrific and costly incidents at the Hennepin County jail, officials are proposing a sweeping overhaul of the way mentally ill adults are treated after being arrested, detained and funneled into the criminal justice system.

Offenders with psychiatric disorders — many of whom are arrested repeatedly for minor nuisance offenses — would be diverted to a one-stop “recovery center” in south Minneapolis instead of winding up in jail.   Read More…


Health News Today – Oct. 3, 2014

Friday’s health news headlines include:

  • Drug OD deaths exceed traffic fatalities in Minn.
  • MNsure 2015 health exchange premiums increase, on average, 4.5%
  • Post ACA study from U of M shows ER psychiatric visits for young adults declined
  • Are marathons bad for you?
  • Ecumen and MnSCU team to train nurses for growing senior population


Drug overdose deaths in Minnesota exceed traffic fatalities for first time (

Traffic accidents are so 2013. The Strib’s Kevin Giles says, “Overdose deaths in Minnesota from prescription painkillers and heroin have soared to a level that now exceeds deaths from motor vehicle accidents, new numbers from the state Department of Health show. … In 2013, the Health Department reported, 507 Minnesotans died of all types of drug overdoses including 329 in the 11-county metro area. Deaths from prescribed pain relievers — and illegal heroin, a close cousin in the opiate family — accounted for many of them. By comparison, 374 Minnesotans died in motor vehicle accidents.”    Read More…


4.5% average hike in 2014 MNsure health plan rates (

Costs for health plans offered through MNsure are expected to rise an average 4.5 percent for 2015, officials with the health exchange said Wednesday.

Premiums will be the lowest of any in the nation and there will be more choices when the new enrollment period launches Nov. 15, the Commerce Department said.   Read More…



University of Minnesota Study: After Affordable Care Act, inpatient psychiatric care rose and emergency psychiatric care dropped for young adults (

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded health care coverage to several million previously uninsured young adults. Research out today from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota finds that the ACA’s young adult insurance expansion coincided with modest increases to inpatient mental health and inpatient substance abuse care utilization, while emergency department use for these disorders declined. Young adults were also less likely to be uninsured when they did use these hospital-based services.

The findings were published online today in the American Journal of Psychiatry.   Read More…



Good Question: Are marathons bad for your health? (

This coming Monday, you might see a few of your co-workers limping around the office after almost 12,000 people lace up for this Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon — 26.2 miles that circle around Minneapolis and St. Paul.

As one marathoner who’s competed in the past put it, “My muscles, my legs, my calves … felt like crap.”   Read More…


Ecumen, MnSCU launch workforce development initiative (Mankato Free Press)

A local senior services organization hopes to become “ground zero” for senior health care by launching a new workforce development initiative that would address a looming shortage in the number of nurses trained to serve the state’s rapidly aging population.

Ecumen, which operates in several rural Minnesota communities, is teaming up with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to implement the new program, to be called Ecumen Scholars.   Read More…



Health News Today – Sept. 8, 2014

Today’s health news:

  • Rural Healthcare Program awards grants for CPR devices
  • Rural outreach to insure more Minnesotans gearing up
  • Mental health care deserves more state funding


CPR devices bound for rural Minnesota (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

More than 300 new automatic cardiopulmonary resuscitation devices will be distributed to emergency rooms and ambulances around the state through a $4 million grant, an initiative that could help save the lives of patients requiring extensive cardiac care, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday.   Read More…


Minnesota gearing up for rural outreach on health insurance enrollment (

Americans living in rural areas will be a key target as states and nonprofit groups strategize how to enroll more people in health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act this fall.

An examination of experiences in Minnesota and Virginia shows how state decisions continue to shape these efforts.

Though millions of people signed up for private insurance or Medicaid in the first year of the Affordable Care Act, millions of others did not. Many live in rural areas where people “face more barriers,” said Laurie Martin, a RAND Corp. senior policy researcher.   Read More…


Mental health care deserves more state funding (Mankato Free Press)

It was a gathering that stirred both feelings of pride and sadness.

One hundred or so professionals gathered at South Central College recently to discuss the state of mental health care being delivered in Minnesota and locally.

Over 220,000 people receive mental health care from the state, and the passion among those providers to do the best for the most fragile of our society was evident. They talked of the area’s strength when it comes to providing some aspects of mental health care. Specifically, there were accolades for the Mankato crisis center, especially for its ability to take patients without a referral.  Read More…



Health News Today – Sept. 4, 2014

Health news headlines today include:

  • MDH plans to release number of sports concussions
  • Dayton calls MNsure rollout a disappointment
  • Cambridge Act On Alzheimer’s is creating a dementia-friendly community
  • Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN says data integration standards are crucial


Health Department to reveal number of sports-related concussions (

Using better equipment is only part of how concussions can be prevented.

“It’s very hard for us to stop everything,” she said. “Football players, for example, learning the proper tackling techniques.”

Hager says new research gives trainers better understanding of the effects of concussions, and can lead to improved diagnostic tools to determine the severity of a head injury right after it happens.   Read More…


Dayton, appearing as candidate, apologizes for MNsure rollout but touts success (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Gov. Mark Dayton, making a relatively rare appearance as a candidate Wednesday, called the troubled roll-out of the MNsure health insurance exchange the single biggest disappointment of his first term but also offered a full-throated defense of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Dayton and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, his Republican opponent, appeared at a general session of the Association of Minnesota Counties, held at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria. The candidates did not share a stage, but spoke in close succession before a crowd of about 200 county commissioners from around the state.    Read More…


Cambridge Act on Alzheimer’s: Our journey so far (Isanti County News)

In May 2013, key members of Cambridge came together and committed their support to become a dementia friendly community.

The ACT on Alzheimer’s is equipping and engaging communities to plan and develop “dementia friendly communities.” A dementia friendly community is informed, safe and respectful of individuals with dementia, their families and caregivers and provides supportive options that foster quality of life.   Read More…


Why is data integration essential to growing health systems (

For a healthcare organization growing through acquisitions, affiliations, and brand-new construction, integration is a continuous process requiring mechanisms for pushing and pulling patient data to numerous health IT systems and end-users with specific needs.

“Even though the clinic is sitting right next door, integration has gone worldwide,” says Joe Pinotti, Interface Engineer at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “You have standards for data transformation, but companies in different parts of the world have different standards of integration.   Read More…

Health News Today – Aug. 25, 2014

Today’s headlines:

  • Farm-to-table in demand at Minnesota State Fair
  • Essentia provided 400k hours clinical education in 2013
  • Neighborhood Involvement Clinic shuts doors citing MNsure success


Minnesotans demanding farm-to-table cuisine, even at state fair (

A lot of folks decide where to grab dinner based on yelp ratings or cravings. But now there’s a growing group of Minnesotans who choose local restaurants based on if it’s “farm-to-table,” basically, the restaurant buys and cooks local food.

Before it’s seared, the pork belly T.J. Rawitzer is cooking was cured and braised, but before that, it was walking around four-days ago.   Read More…



Essentia Health invests 400,000 in medical students (Brainerd Dispatch)

Medical professionals at Essentia Health provided more than 400,000 hours of clinical education to students in the past year.

It’s part of Essentia’s commitment to the future and to ensuring students of today are educated properly for tomorrow’s health care needs.   Read More…


Health care success causes Minn. clinic to close (

A Minneapolis medical clinic is closing, largely because more people are obtaining health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and seeking care elsewhere.

Minnesota Public Radio News reports the Neighborhood Involvement Program provides medical care to thousands of uninsured and underinsured people.   Read More…

Health News Today – Aug. 4, 2014

In health news today:

  • Two clinics get ACA funding for mental health services
  • As we age health care strives to improve while lowering costs
  • Minn. family tries medical marijuana for son’s seizures


Minn. clinics get $500,000 for mental health services (

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $250,000 each to Open Door Health Center of Mankato and Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais. The funding comes from the Affordable Care Act.

Rita Plourde, executive director of the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, says the family physicians at her clinic are treating a growing number of patients who need mental health services.   Read More…


Late-in-life health care: Initiatives aim to cut costs while increasing quality (

A medical bill is a shocker, even for those with insurance coverage. An emergency-room visit with multiple tests can cost as much as a car. Major surgery? Think mortgage-sized sums.

The sobering reality that Americans could collectively go broke paying such bills for an aging nation has ignited challenges to traditional ways of financing health care.   Read More…


Family tries marijuana treatment for baby Wyatt’s seizures (

The path that Jessica Hauser never expected to travel with her family is approaching a crossroads.

The journey for Hauser and her husband, Jeremy, began when their son, Wyatt, was diagnosed seven months into his young life with infantile spasms, a type of epilepsy that could cause about 200 seizures a day.   Read More…