Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By C.M. Swanson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Grass roots coalition wins 13-month battle


courtesy Claudia Foussard

Minnesota State Representative Jason Rarick speaks with Julie Gelle, Rick Rayburn, Claudia Foussard, and Scott Killerud prior to the group's testimony to the House of Representatives during the summer of 2016.

Thousands of Minnesotans have cause to celebrate a freedom recently won on their behalf by a grass roots coalition who believed they could fight the government and win.

On December 20, 2016, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) received a letter of approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to drop claims on personal estates of residents between 55 and 65 years of age unknowingly routed to Medical Assistance (MA) when signing up for health care through the MNsure website.

Over 13 months ago, Minnesota residents Rick and Rose Rayburn, Scott and Ellen Killerud, Robert and Julie Gelle, and Claudia Foussard became aware of state claims that would become liens on their personal estates upon their demise, stemming from health care premiums paid by the state on their behalf.

After learning of their plight, these seven individuals formed a grass roots coalition. They began a campaign of public awareness and call to action. They contacted MNsure, CMS, DHS, insurance agents, attorneys, state representatives, senators and countless media resources. They used print, broadcast and Internet sources to get information to friends, neighbors, associates and any Minnesota resident in their same situation.

In the spring of 2016, Sen.Tony Lourey (DFL) responded to the coalition's campaign by authoring a bill to discontinue the state's funding recovery policy for the targeted age group. Representatives Jason Rarick (R) and Matt Dean (R) authored a similar bill in the House. The bill passed the House and Senate, was placed in an Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill, and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) on June 1, 2016, contingent upon federal approval by CMS.

On November 14, 2016, CMS responded to DHS with questions regarding specific wording of the estate recovery portion of the State Plan Amendment (SPA) rather than granting an approval. The coalition sent out another call to action, requesting people in their network contact all parties involved to keep the issue at a top of mind level.

Finally, in late December, CMS granted approval for a clarified SPA from DHS. Once the situation was resolved, DHS issued a statement regarding the clarification, which reads in part: "We submitted a state plan amendment seeking federal approval for this change earlier this year. However, CMS would not approve the state plan amendment with the January 1, 2014 date and so that date has been removed from the amendment as approved by CMS. This means that DHS and county agencies will collect only the amount MA paid for long term care services and not to other services, even those provided prior to January 1, 2014."

Though not involved in negotiations between DHS and CMS, as author of the bill opting out-of-state recoveries for premiums and services paid by the state on behalf of the target group, Sen. Lourey is pleased with the outcome.

"The only state recoveries from here going forward, and looking back, are for long-term care and wavered services," said Sen. Lourey. "There are no more recoveries for basic health care, no matter what time period that coverage was operative."

After 13 months of action, the coalition has reached its victorious goal. They fought for over 80,000 Minnesota residents, many of whom will never know the grass roots group was in their corner. Personally, members of the coalition no longer harbor state claims on their personal estates ranging from $11,000 to $30,000.

"How do I feel?" said Julie Gelle. "Absolute joy, knowing that when we die, our children will not be burdened with a debt that was wrongly placed against us. Feelings of gratitude for having discovered new friends; the Rayburns, Killeruds, Claudia Foussard and countless others along the way who made phones calls to our elected officials, testifying before the Senate and House, the time spent on the computer, (the result) makes it all worth it."

"I feel relief," said Foussard. "It's an incredible victory for all Minnesotans, a lovely way to welcome the New Year. I worked with such incredible people ... truly amazing individuals. I feel honored and so privileged. Their dedication, hard work and tenacity are what made this all happen."

"We have a sense of relief and vindication after months of mental turmoil and angst," said the Killeruds. "Spearheading the movement to right this grievous wrong has brought us into contact and friendship with many other hard working Minnesotans caught in the same trap."

"After the ups and downs, it's unbelievable," said Rick Rayburn. "A huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders. I can't say enough about Julie Gelle and the other members of the team. Without them, nothing would have happened."

The tight knit group has proven to themselves, and to the nation, it is still possible for the voice of the people to be heard, even by the ears of the government.


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