Health News Today – 5/19/15

In today’s health news headlines:

  • MN Legislature: Easy ending for health funding bill
  • Knee surgery robot eases procedure
  • U proposes more research program oversight


Easy ending for health funding bill (Duluth News Tribune)

Health funding legislation that caused some of the most controversy in recent months ended up passing relatively easily.

House and Senate members late Sunday and early Monday passed a $12 billion measure funding health programs. It retained the existing MNsure health insurance exchange structure, which both parties wanted to change. It also maintained the MinnesotaCare state-subsidized insurance program for the poor, which Republicans wanted to eliminate.  Read More…


New surgery robot shortens recovery times in knee replacements (

A new medical robot is designed to make knee replacement surgery a less painful experience with a much quicker recovery.

Knee replacement is the most sought-after orthopedic procedure nationwide, and doctors the new technology could be a breakthrough for a lot of patients.   Read More…


U of M proposes better oversight of clinic research programs (

The University of Minnesota on Monday released a preliminary plan for changing how it conducts research using human test subjects.

The plan, which was prepared by a committee of faculty members and outside health care professionals, calls for the university to overhaul its procedures for reviewing and monitoring studies that involve humans and to double the annual budget of its Human Research Protection Program to increase oversight and training.   Read More…

Health News Today – 5/5/15

Today’s health news headlines include:

  • Allina CEO joins board of data warehouser Health Catalyst
  • Top man at MNsure resigns
  • Senators introduce transgender health equity bill


Allina Health President and CEO Penny Wheeler Joins Health Catalyst Board (News Release)

Health Catalyst, a leader in healthcare data warehousing and analytics, announced today that Penny Wheeler, MD, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Allina Health, has accepted an appointment to the company’s Board of Directors, and will officially join the Board of Directors in July.

Dr. Wheeler was named CEO of Allina Health in January after serving for nine years as the health system’s Chief Clinical Officer.  Allina Health is a $3.7 billion not-for-profit organization whose more than 90 clinics, 12 hospitals and related healthcare services provide care for nearly 1 million people across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.  Read More…


MNsure chief Leitz stepping down (

MNsure’s chief executive is quitting the health insurance exchange.

Scott Leitz announced his resignation Monday to MNsure’s board of directors. Allison O’Toole, the agency’s deputy director of external affairs, will take over as MNsure’s interim head starting May 22.   Read More…


MN Senators introduce bill for transgender health insurance equity (

On Friday, DFLers in the Minnesota Senate introduced a bill that would lift the ban on transgender-specific health care in state-funded health insurance plans.

Minnesota law specifically forbids the state’s Medicaid program from covering gender confirmation health care for transgender people. The state covered such procedures until 2005 when legislators passed, and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed, a health and human services omnibus bill that blocked the coverage.    Read More…



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…

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…

Health News Today – 2/6/15

In today’s health headlines:

  • Climate change may affect allergies
  • MNsure extends contact center hours
  • How increase in state funding could improve U of M med school


Minnesota health report: Climate change may affect allergies (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

A new report from The Minnesota Department of Health says allergies are one of the significant effects of climate change.

“Minnesota’s Climate and Health Profile and Report” says higher amounts of carbon may cause some plants to produce more pollen, leading to more allergies. Other health issues like Lyme disease and West Nile virus may be affected by climate change as well.  Read More…


MNsure extends contact center hours as open enrollment deadline looms (

As the Feb. 15 deadline for MNsure’s open enrollment approaches, the health insurance exchange is offering extended contact center hours for those with last-minute questions.

MNsure staff will be available until 10 p.m. weeknights and midnights on weekend beginning Feb. 9.   Read More…


How more state funding could change U medical school (

Gov. Mark Dayton wants to send $30 million in new state funding to the University of Minnesota Medical School. The plan is part of the governor’s proposal for the next two-year budget cycle, and is the beginning of what Dayton hopes will be a $230 million commitment to the medical school over the next decade.

The money is designed to improve the medical school’s national reputation and its research capacity – and bolster its role as a place where health innovations are created.   Read More…

Health News Today – 1/30/15

Today’s health news headlines:

  • U of M measles case draws attention
  • Good Question: Why do the vaccinated get sick?
  • Enrollment trend could require state to pay more for MNsure ops


University of Minnesota measles case draws attention to wider health threat (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

A measles case reported at the University of Minnesota is drawing new attention to Minnesota vaccination laws and prompting state health officials to remind parents that although measles is officially eradicated in the United States, it remains a contagious and dangerous disease.   Read More…


Good Question: Why do the vaccinated get sick (

The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed Thursday that the University of Minnesota student sickened with measles had been vaccinated.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had reported six of the original 52 people who contracted the virus at Disneyland had gotten the shot as well.  Read More…


Trends could require state to pay more for MNsure operations (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

Lackluster enrollment in private plans and drying-up federal funds may force Minnesota to pick up more of the tab for its health insurance exchange.

MNsure would get another $11.7 million of state money under Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget for technological improvements — a necessary change because public-plan signups have far outpaced private-plan enrollments.   Read More…