Insurance exchange concerns aired

NEW ULM – Minnesota Insurance Exchange issues dominated much of a town hall meeting Wednesday with Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) at the Pizza Ranch.

The lawmakers voiced concerns about added costs and board decisions for the program Dahms said would affect approximately 1.3 million needy residents not currently enrolled in insurance programs. Enrollment is set to begin Oct. 1 for programs that would be effective Jan. 1, 2014.

“You may not be able to choose what insurance policy you want or one that rural Minnesota providers will accept,” Dahms said. “The State of Minnesota is developing Navigator and Assister computer programs to help people apply online.”

Brown County Commissioner Scott Windschitl said the online application process takes at least two hours.

Cuts to human services

Vicky Sieve of New Ulm asked what could be done to deal with the $150 million in cuts to state human services program. The cuts affect services that involve caregivers of people with special needs and keep them out of hospitals and nursing homes.

“We’re not the ones driving the costs up,” she said.

Dahms said a lot of bi-partisan support exists for House and Senate bills that would give personal care attendants (PCAs) a 5 percent pay hike. He encouraged people affected by the cuts to e-mail legislators with information about the situation.

Dahms said everyone will pay for fourth-tier tax hikes affecting wealthier residents because those are the people who create jobs.

“Fourth-tier people can change their behavior due to higher taxes by moving out of state or even out of the country, which could create deficits,” Dahms said. “There are not many middle income folks who can afford tax hikes or added costs from MinnesotaCare and Obamacare either. Those things will cost us all money. There has already been a big tax and fee expansion for government services.”

Asian carp

Torkelson said people have bought carcasses of Asian carp to his legislative office in an attempt to get support for keeping the invasive species out of the state by closing locks and adding electric barriers.

“I’d like to see the St. Anthony lock closed. It isn’t used for much anyway. I’d like to see electric barriers added on the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers too,” Torkelson said.

Dahms said Asian carp pose a serious threat to Minnesota fisheries and that time is of the essence to prevent their spread in state waters.

Highway 14

New Ulm Mayor Bob Beussman asked why the Highway 14-15 intersection couldn’t be completed when the new bridge across the Minnesota River at New Ulm is done.

“We need to do both projects together or New Ulm will be shut down (by closed highways) twice,” Beussman said.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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