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Other view: Board lacks business, consumer perspectives

Changes to the health-care market in Minnesota proceeded last week with the appointments of seven board members whose decisions will shape operations of the state's health insurance exchange, to be known as MNsure.

They face a tight deadline. The state's new "marketplace" to help individuals and small businesses buy health coverage, an outgrowth of "Obamacare," must be ready Oct. 1. It will operate from a digital portal.

The people guiding its launch and growth have backgrounds in technology and business, in addition to health care. They include a General Mills executive (Tom Forsythe), a former attorney with UnitedHealth Group (Brian Beutner), a retired physician (Kathryn Duevel), a health-care entrepreneur (Thompson Aderinkomi), a health-care consultant with a union background (Pete Benner), the director of human services on the Fond du Lac Reservation (Phil Norrgard), and the state's human services commissioner (Lucinda Jesson).

Who's missing? Small business owners and consumers are notably absent.

"Their perspective and feedback on whether the exchange is working for them (would seem) critical for the board to do its job," said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake.

Kate Johansen of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said significant legislative discussion focused on a board with consumer representation. But, "When I look at this board," she said, "I'm not sure I could pick out of the lineup who would actually purchase from the exchange."

The appointees are "fine people, important experts in their own right," added Lynn Blewett, a University of Minnesota professor and director of the State Health Access Data Assistance Center. But they'll face a "big learning curve."

Blewett, who was an applicant, said she "assumed we'd have people who were immersed" in health-care reform. Blewett said she expected it would function "like an expert board" with people who know the health-care reform act inside and out and could "hit the ground running."

Applicants were selected using the state's "open appointments" process, administered by the office of the Secretary of State. By the deadline, more than 100 applications were received for positions that include compensation of about $30,000 per year, plus expenses.

Without taking anything away from the appointees, concerns remain about the missing perspectives. The exchange is imagined as a device attractive to small businesses and individual consumers. It will be expensive to create and operate; return on taxpayers' investment is by no means assured.