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

By C.M. Swanson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Coalition: 'Let us off the merry-go-round'

Senator: 'This will get done'


C.M. Swanson

Julie Gelle, Ellen Killerud, Scott Killerud, Claudia Foussard, Rose Rayburn, Rick Rayburn and Robert Gelle gathered in Moose Lake last week for an interview regarding updates on a resurrected MNsure lien battle.

One would think if a bill is passed by state legislators and signed into law by the governor, a sense of completion would occur. Not so for the grass roots coalition lobbying for change regarding the Minnesota Medical Assistance (MA) cost recovery program for 55- to 65-year-olds.

With the expansion of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, thousands of Minnesotans signed up for health care through the MNsure website, only to be unknowingly routed to the Minnesota Department of Human Services' (DHS) MA program. The state paid coverage premiums and general health care costs on behalf of MA recipients, then placed claims on their estates to recover costs.

Shocked to discover a $30,000 claim on their estate, Rick and Rose Rayburn formed a grass roots coalition to make the policy known, and to fight it. A core group arose, including Scott and Ellen Killerud (with a $11,000 claim), Robert and Julie Gelle (with a $17,000 claim) and Claudia Foussard (with a $20,000 claim).

The coalition formed the campaign for change, resulting in passage of a law June 1, 2016, putting an end to the policy and dropping claims on the estates of thousands of Minnesotans, or so they thought. Within days, they learned the policy DHS implemented to comply with the law was subject to federal approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The coalition closely followed negotiations between CMS and DHS until an agreement was reached and approved December 20, 2016, bringing the matter to a successful close. Due to their growing experience, the coalition continued their watchdog approach. In January, they learned the law of June 1 now requires a technical adjustment to reflect the agreement between CMS and DHS.

"Do our legislators think they're running an amusement park," said Rick Rayburn, "because we're on a roller coaster going up and down, and we're on a merry-go-round going round and round and neither one of them ever stop."

Author of the bill that changed the policy, Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL) said the legislative process is often complicated and frustrating.

"We need to make this last adjustment, to make sure our statues are technically, to the T, in line with the (CMS/DHS) arrangements and agreements," said Sen. Lourey.

Coalition members are definitely frustrated.

"I really don't have a lot of trust in the government," said Claudia Foussard. "I'm kind of resigned to the fact that this is what we're dealing with. I will continue to fight until this is done."

The basis of the coalition's objection is the concern that DHS could arbitrarily reactivate estate claims by creating a new agreement with CMS.

Sen. Lourey said that is not the case.

"As it stands right now, there are no estate recoveries being pursued for basic health care services for those between 55 and 65," said Sen. Lourey. "That's done. This issue, for all intents and purposes, is done."

Members of the coalition are not confident.

"In my mind, until the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted," said Scott Killerud, "we're where we were in November 2016."

Ellen Killerud wonders why DHS continues to keep track of estate claim amounts.

"Those amounts are supposed to be expunged, gotten rid of," said Killerud. "But they still want to know exactly what each of us owe. Why do they need to know this? The law was passed. That should have been it. Hit the delete key on the computer and it's gone. I want to know why they need to know that information."

January 19, Sen. Lourey introduced the new bill with complicit language to the Senate (Senate File 216) in an attempt to fast track its passage. Sen. Lourey informed the coalition an author's amendment needs to be applied when the file reaches its first committee stop, due to a clerical error. Still, he is confident the bill will move forward.

"It's not a question of whether this will get done," said Sen. Lourey. "This will get done. It is not out of the standard course of business. If the quicker route doesn't pan out, we will follow the standard process for handling technical corrections."

Members of the coalition have their doubts.

"I certainly hope Sen. Lourey is 100 percent serious about making this a done deal and fast tracking it," said Julie Gelle. "I guess failure is not an option for us. We'll leave no stone unturned for our quest for freedom from the claws of the estate liens."

"It's been long and difficult," said Rose Rayburn. "With the legislation passing and the governor signing, we thought that was it. Now, we find out we hit rewind. The journey is far from over."

Robert Gelle is confident the group will keep their vigil.

"They're going to keep going," said Robert Gelle, "but if it ever gets done, it will be a miracle."

Despite Sen. Lourey's reassurances, the coalition is taking a "show me the proof" attitude.

"If they think they're running an amusement park, we're not amused," said Rick Rayburn. "Just fix it. Let us off the merry-go-round."


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