Proudly Serving District 32 Chisago and Isanti Counties
Welcome! Thank you for visiting my legislative web page. Here, you will find updates on the 2013 Session as well as other resources that may be helpful to you.
It is an honor to serve the people of District 32. I am dedicated to promoting the principles that you and I share. My office is here to assist you with any constituent needs you may have. Feel free to call the office at 651-296-5419 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
My Legislative Assistant, Michele is also in the office during regular hours should you need to contact me or make an appointment. Her phone number is 651-296-6200.
Minnesota is a wonderful place to live. Together, you and I can preserve our high quality of life for generations to come!
Senator Sean Nienow Introduces Bill to Delay Vikings Stadium Construction
Until a Proven Revenue Source is Identified
April 4, 2013
(ST. PAUL) –State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) will introduce a bill next week to delay the selling of bonds to fund the building of a new Vikings stadium until the funding revenue shortfall from E-pull tabs is reconciled.
The Dayton Administration’s projected revenue from E-pull tabs is off by 95%. The original projections by the Administration were that E-pull tabs would generate $35 million in revenue. Current projections are at $1.7 million.
This colossal error in calculation warrants immediate action before the state is forced to take money from education and health care to pay for the new stadium.
Senator Nienow and Representative Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) have authored legislation to delay the implementation of general bond sales until a proven revenue source is determined.
“Are we really going to build a sports stadium and take money from education, health care and maintaining roads? In whose world is that a good idea? When the Stadium bill was debated I said the E-pull tab revenue source was based on ‘fairies and fufu dust.’ It appears I have been proven correct,” Sen. Nienow said.
Nienow was re-elected in November to the newly reconfigured Senate District 32, which includes the Chisago and Isanti counties. Nienow welcomes comments and questions and can be reached by telephone at (651)296-5419, by mail at 105 State Office Building, 100 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Here is an article I sent to the local papers.
Sen. Nienow Guest Commentary – March 25, 2013
The Minnesota Legislature is buzzing with activity these days. While we await the official legislative budget bills to be introduced, there are other issues that are getting the attention of the media and the public.
You may have seen recent news stories in print, television and radio outlets talking about an issue I have been working on for over two years. Medicaid programs in Minnesota are in big trouble. It’s not that there is a lack of money going into these programs. The problem is the Department of Human Services (DHS) has poorly managed the programs. As a result, we have a significant percentage of $8 billion a year being lost through these enormously unaccountable government programs. What is truly heart breaking is the suffering this brings into the lives of our neighbors, who, already struggling in tough economic circumstances, are in pain and unable to get the medical care they need and these programs are supposed to provide.
Two years ago I began asking questions about the apparent lack of transparency and accountability in the management of Medicaid, a program that is funded by roughly 50% state and 50% federal funding. There have been three audits of Minnesota’s Medicaid programs that have consistently confirmed our worst fears; that the Department of Human Services dropped the ball on oversight and that the rates being paid to the HMOs who administer these programs have been very high. While providers of medical services; doctors, dentists, chiropractors etc. continue to receive low reimbursements for the care they provide Medicaid patients, the HMOs to whom these programs have been outsourced, according to the audits, are sitting on huge sums of money. A “for-profit” business would call these profits however, because the HMOs are “non-profits,” they are called “reserves.”
It is the persistent questions from myself and others, concerned about the lack of integrity in the Medicaid programs, that have resulted in these audits and a current investigation into Medicaid in Minnesota by the federal Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. I welcome and applaud this effort because, in order for Minnesota to know a fair rate of reimbursement for health care services, we must know what it actually costs to provide those services. The rising cost of health care and the massive overhaul that the passage of the Affordable Care Act imposes on us make it imperative that we get to the bottom of this now.
The real tragedy in not getting to the bottom of the Medicaid program mismanagement is the heart breaking stories of people suffering because they cannot find a doctor or dentist who will take Medicaid. I recently heard from Sherri, a working woman from our community who deals with a disability and could not get dental care unless she paid for the anesthesia out of her own pocket. This is just awful! Taxpayers have already paid for these programs and expect the money will actually be used for the medical care these patients need.
Since the Dayton Administration seems unwilling to restore the integrity of Minnesota’s Medicaid programs through a comprehensive audit, it has become necessary for me to have conversations with Congressman Darrel Issa’s office. Congressman Issa, chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Government Oversight Committee is investigating the way Medicaid rates are paid in Minnesota and other states. Additionally, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has introduced the Medicaid Integrity Act of 2013, requiring annual audits of Medicaid programs nationwide. Recipients of these programs, like my constituent, Sherri, are counting on the money that is allocated for medical care, in fact, result in medical care not be wasted through mismanagement.
February 22 Article:
As I write this column, the legislature is wrapping up hearings on Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal. We continue to review the Governor’s budget while awaiting the final budget forecast due out in late February. In the meantime, other policy measures are being introduced and discussed. Recently I introduced a bill in the Minnesota Senate that pertains to the use of drones, unmanned aircraft, in Minnesota. This proposed legislation prompted much media interest and as such is the topic of my commentary this week.
With the introduction of Senate File 485, Minnesota joins at least 18 other states in being proactive about establishing common sense guidelines in the use of a technology that is about to vastly expand in the United States. In fact, Congress passed a law that requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow drones wide access to U.S. airspace by 2015 and the Federal Aviation Administration predicts over 10,000 drones will be in use within the next five years. Clearly, given these projections, it is prudent that Minnesota establish individual privacy protection guidelines.
Drones are already here and they provide opportunities to benefit the public when used properly and with respect to our civil liberties and Fourth Amendment rights. The FAA reports that it has issued 1,428 permits to domestic drone operators since 2007. While it is anticipated that local and state law enforcement will be the largest drone users, as supply and demand expand and prices go down the potential is certainly there for other people to use drones. Already, state transportation departments and universities are using drones.
This bill would prohibit the use of drones for gathering evidence or information on individuals except for high risk incidences or after obtaining a warrant. The bill provides civil remedies should an individual’s rights be violated in this manner.
We are increasingly becoming a “surveillance society” where Big Brother is using cameras to watch the activities of average citizens. States have an obligation to be proactive in ensuring protections are in place before problems arise. That is just common sense.
Town Hall Meetings for February:
Education Town Hall
February 19: 7:00 - 8:00 PM.
North Branch High School Auditorium
Open to the public and all parents and educators, staff, are welcome and encouraged to attend.
Braham Town Hall
February 16: 10:00- 11:00 AM
201 So. Broadway Ave.
Cambridge Town Hall
February 23: 10:00 - 11:00 AM
Minnco Credit Union
236 2nd Ave SW
Early March: TBD
January 28th article submitted to local newspapers:
Governor Dayton’s Task Force on Education Finance Workgroup Recommendations
I serve on the Senate Education Committee and recently received the recommendations from Governor Dayton’s Education Finance Workgroup. There are components of these recommendations that the residents in District 32 should know about. Today I write to inform you how, if implemented, these recommendations might affect you and your communities.
Essentially Governor Dayton’s workgroup recommends the state take the money that some school districts receive through their education levy and put it in the General Education Fund. The state would then give that same amount of money to all school districts. So, what does this mean for school districts that do not have a levy, such as North Branch? The state would give the local school boards the authority to impose a levy to obtain the money that would be given to the state and redistributed back to the school district in the General Education Fund. This is problematic on a number of fronts. First, North Branch has, six times in the last ten years, said no to the school district’s proposed referendum to increase the levy. The voters have consistently and clearly said through their vote that they do not want their property taxes increased. The Governor’s work group recommendation goes around the voter, disenfranchising their vote, and gives the authority directly to the school board to impose this increase in your property tax even though they were never elected with that authority.
The school districts do not have authority to raise your taxes and what’s more, when you voted for your local school board member you were not given the opportunity to ask them how they would stand on raising your taxes. You, as a voter and resident of the community had no opportunity to base your vote on this information. These recommendations take the authority for imposing taxes out of the hands of the legislators who have to answer to the people for how they would handle that authority and puts it in the hands of school board officials who do not. Furthermore, on page 9-10 of the Workforce Recommendations it states that if the school board chose to levy less that the stated amount, the state could reduce education aid payments by a dollar for dollar amount. Would this pressure the school boards to impose the full levy out of fear that their education funding could be cut? It almost certainly would.
Just how much money are we talking about here? The financial impact summary released by the Workgroup shows that North Branch would receive a 13.1% increase in education property tax; Cambridge would see an 8.4% increase in education property tax; Chisago Lakes and Rush City would each see about 2.5% increase and Braham and Princeton would stay about the same. I cannot support the state reaching farther into your household budget and taking more of your money while at the same disenfranchising your vote.
Next I’d like to address equity in education funding. Equity in funding, or better described as the inequity in education finding is important and those who have followed my work on education at the legislature know that I have advocated closing the gap between the disproportionately high levels of funding going to Metro schools compared to what our local schools here in Isanti and Chisago County receive. In 2011, Minneapolis Schools received approximately $14,000 per pupil while North Branch received about $8700 and Chisago Lakes received about $8500. Cambridge Isanti Schools received $7600 and Braham Schools received $8500. Minneapolis Public Schools receive over $5000 more than our schools, per child yet between 2007 and 2011 less than half of Minneapolis public high school students graduated in four years. In addition to that, 73% of 11th grade students in Minneapolis Public Schools did not meet the Math Standards in 2012. Clearly this is not due to a lack of funding. I know Governor Dayton talks about a better Minnesota, but there is a better way for Minnesota. Our educational system, receiving 40% of our state’s budget, is structurally flawed and rather than using sleight of hand funding tricks that take away your right to vote, we should build a structurally sound system that results in highly educated students.
Funding education is a high priority in Minnesota. It should be done responsibly and not on the backs of homeowners and small businesses and certainly not by going around their right to vote on local education levies.
You can count on me to continue to bring reasonable, responsible and compassionate solutions to the running of the great state of Minnesota and to stand for your rights. I welcome your feedback and ideas. You can contact me by email or phone at 651-296-5419 or Sen.Sean.Nienow@senate.mn.
OP-ED: The 2013 Legislative Session
On January 8th I was sworn in as state senator serving District 32, Isanti and Chisago Counties. It is an honor and a privilege to represent the good people of our wonderful communities in Isanti and Chisago and I look forward to the next four years and the opportunity to bring your voice to the Minnesota Legislature.
Over the last two years the legislature made good progress in managing the states checkbook. When I took office the state was facing problems left by the previous legislature which had overextended state spending leaving Minnesota with a projected $6.2 billion deficit. When the two-year legislative cycle ended we had turned that deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus according to Governor Dayton’s budget department. It was good progress and I am optimistic that we can continue in the right direction. The state budget will be a priority for many of us.
The election last November resulted in a situation in which the Minnesota Senate, House of Representatives and Governorship are all under the control of the Democrat Party. This will make it difficult for the normal and healthy debate of ideas and the balance of power that tempers the extremes from swinging the pendulum too far in either direction. None the less, I am optimistic that there will be bi-partisan efforts to do what is right for the people of Minnesota. You have my commitment to bring the your concerns and ideas to that debate and work for results that keep us moving forward to financial stability as a state and opportunities for Minnesotan’s to live high quality lives.
The committees I will serve on include Finance; Health, Human Services and Housing, and Education. I am also the Minority Lead on the Education Finance committee. These committees oversee very important aspects of life for Minnesota and it pleases me to serve on them.
Education is an important matter to the people in my town and yours. It has been a challenge to bring equity to the funding of education locally. You can count on me to work to resolve this problem so the children in Isanti and Chisago can have every opportunity for a high quality education that schools in the Twin Cities receive. No child should be marginalized simply because of where they live. Health Care is another important matter I will write about in a future piece.
If you plan a trip to the State Capitol, be sure to call ahead and plan to stop in. Making time to meet with residents of District 32 is a top priority for me because your opinions count and I want to hear your ideas and concerns.
January 18, 2013
(ST. PAUL) – State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) has been appointed by Minnesota Leadership to serve on the Early Childhood Education and Care Advisory Board. The board was created in 2008 by then Governor Tim Pawlenty. It includes members of the legislature, the Commissioner of Health or his designee and parents of children under the age of six.
The responsibilities of the board include conducting a periodic statewide assessment concerning the quality and availability of early childhood education and development programs and services. The board will also work to facilitate improved collaboration and coordination between the state and federal programs and amongst state agencies with the aim to improve early childhood education in Minnesota. The Advisory Board makes recommendations regarding statewide professional development and career advancement plans for early childhood educators.
“I am happy to serve on the Early Childhood Education and Care Advisory Board and continue to make a difference, improving education for Minnesota’s children and education options for parents. Serving as the GOP Minority Lead on the Education Finance Committee affords me additional opportunities to speak out for the families of Chisago and Isanti Counties to ensure their children, and all Minnesota children have the high quality education they deserve,” said Senator Nienow. Senator Nienow will serve on the Early Childhood Education and Care Advisory Board with Senator Patricia Torres Ray.
Nienow was re-elected in November to the newly reconfigured Senate District 32, which includes most of Chisago and Isanti counties. Nienow welcomes comments and questions and can be reached by telephone at (651)296-5419, by mail at 105 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 11, 2012
BACHMANN, NIENOW APPLAUD AUDIT OF MINNESOTA’S MEDICAID PROGRAMS
(ST. PAUL) -- Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Minnesota State Senator Sean Nienow today commended the U.S. Office of Inspector General for stepping up the investigation into Medicaid rate setting in Minnesota. Both Bachmann and Nienow introduced legislation in 2012 requiring audits of Medicaid programs.
In a letter dated November 20, 2012, The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notified the Minnesota Department of Human Services that the OIG will audit the rates that were charged by health plans, “nonprofits,” to administer and pay Minnesota Medicaid claims on behalf of the poor and disabled.
Protecting Medicaid from fraud should not only be a Minnesota-specific goal, but a national one. Both the U.S. Congress and the Minnesota Legislature held hearings in 2012 on the need for greater transparency and accountability as calls for Medicaid auditing were made by federal and state lawmakers like Bachmann and Nienow.
“Taxpayers have been paying huge sums of money to health plans without ever getting an itemized list of what the money was for,” said Bachmann. “It is time that we find out, once and for all, why the health plans have been amassing huge reserves, and at the same time, increasing the rates they charge for paying Medicaid claims. When Medicaid money is lost through waste, fraud and abuse, the very people who need it don’t get the care they should. It is unconscionable to do nothing and leave our poor suffering in the wake of inadequate access to care.”
"Future rates are determined based on previous years’ costs, and the Affordable Care Act includes a vast expansion of Medicaid. We simply lack verifiable claims data to support what the health plans have been charging. This problem exists at every level, all the way to the top including the MN Department of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services,” said Sen. Nienow. “A proper audit at the granular level is what is needed. People are finding it difficult to get services and providers suffer low reimbursements for the care they give. Proper audits will go a long way to restore integrity to these programs which, hopefully, results in better care for Minnesota’s poor families.”
Earlier this year, Bachmann introduced The Medicaid Integrity Act of 2012 calling for independent, third-party financial and performance audits every other year of the health plans who administer Medicaid. Senator Nienow authored legislation in 2012 to implement audits of payment data and administrative expenses after discovering that no such audits have ever been performed in over a decade.
June 29, 2012
Nienow: Health Care Programs Need Closer Look Before ObamaCare Expansion
On June 28th, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, was mostly upheld by the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote. Unless and until repealed, ObamaCare is the law of the land.
A significant part of this federal law includes a very large expansion of Medicaid – subsidized health insurance for the poor – a program riddled with fraud. Over the last several years, allegations have been made that Minnesota inflated Medicaid spending figures in order to receive additional, unwarranted taxpayer dollars from the federal government. Congressional subcommittees of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings regarding the lack of transparency, accountability and oversight of Medicaid funding in Minnesota and around the country. The final report from the hearings specifically cites Minnesota as an example of “how states are failing to properly ensure the appropriate use of taxpayer dollars spent”. Also, a recent Federal Government Accountability Office Report to Congress said that without corrective action in the program we “continue to put billions of taxpayer dollars at risk of improper payments or waste.” With a massive expansion of Medicaid set to occur under ObamaCare, the time to take action to improve accountability and increase transparency is now, not later.
The enormous expansion of Medicaid underscores the grave urgency for audits of the Minnesota Medicaid program administered under managed care (HMOs). The same HMO’s run both the Medicare and Medicaid programs, but historically Minnesota Medicare costs have been among the lowest in the nation while Medicaid costs are among the highest even though Medicare is only for the elderly who typically use more health care and are more expensive to cover. On its face, something does not look right there. We simply cannot expand Medicaid under ObamaCare without first auditing our system to get an accurate picture of what the true cost should be. An expansion based on fraudulent or artificially inflated numbers would be an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars. We must get an accurate assessment of the current program before adding hundreds of thousands of people onto Medicaid.
In Minnesota, Medicaid is run by just four HMOs. Current state law prohibits market competition from other HMO’s who would like to make a profit here, even though competition almost always lowers prices for the consumer. Expansion of Medicaid, if we are to avoid a cartel-like situation, must include opening Medicaid programs in our state to other competitors. Before Minnesota can move to a block grant system or any other appropriation from the federal government, we must have audits done immediately and make our Medicaid payment rates default to the Medicare rate in Minnesota where we have accuracy and accountability.
I am glad to say I was able to enact a state law requiring audits of these programs. Due to budget constraints, funding for that state audit might not be available until 2015. I recently sent a letter to the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) requesting they conduct an immediate audit of Minnesota’s public health care programs and their funding. CMS can do this using the Medicaid Integrity Program included in the Social Security Act and expanded in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. CMS has the resources to commence an audit this year. With the conclusions reported after the two Oversight Committee hearings, the need to take action is critical.
Since half of the Minnesota Medicaid program is paid for with federal tax dollars, the federal government has a clear financial interest in finding any waste or fraud as soon as possible. If CMS performs the audit now rather than waiting until Minnesota’s audit, the federal government will get an immediate account of the Medicaid spending in Minnesota. As an added benefit, Minnesota’s future audits will be less expensive. It is a classic win-win. The federal government gets the accountability needed to prevent fraud and abuse, the state saves time and money and taxpayers get the transparency in government they deserve. The best result – those “billions of taxpayer dollars at risk” will be safe from fraud and government health care programs would become accountable to the people of Minnesota.
NIENOW: FINANCIAL STABILITY THROUGH REFORM AND RESTRAINT
After Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) projected a $6.2 billion budget deficit in November 2010, it became very apparent that government needed to rein in spending growth to get our state’s finances back in the black. When we entered the last biennium in January 2011, we set a goal to put the state on a more sustainable fiscal path by cutting waste in government and eliminating unessential spending.
I’m glad to say we mostly achieved that goal. Over the last two years, the Legislature has taken steps to reduce spending growth and reform government. In February, the Dayton Administration’s MMB official state budget forecast unveiled an almost $1.2 billion current budget surplus.
I am also proud to say that I was directly involved in a number of reforms that have helped put our state on the path toward financial stability.
As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, I supported efforts to reduce unsustainable spending increases in our state’s health care programs by $1.8 billion by modifying policies that were no longer working for our state.
I also worked diligently to shed light on the potential misuse of Medicaid health care dollars. The federal government has launched four investigations into how Minnesota pays HMOs for Medical Assistance which comes, in part, as a result of my work and legislation. I will continue efforts to create accountability and transparency in Minnesota’s health care programs.
This year I served as Chairman of the new Reform and Redesign Subcommittee which sought to find efficiencies in government. On that committee, we consolidated the state’s IT functions, encouraged agencies to work with private firms to find efficiencies, looked for cost-savings in government so our state operates more effectively and efficiently.
Our reforms are working and Minnesota's economy is improving. Before these recent budget actions next year’s deficit was projected to be $4.4 billion, but our reforms trimmed that by 75% to about $1 billion. In addition, every month MMB has been reporting higher budget surpluses – an extra $34 million last month alone!
Minnesota employment has recovered more rapidly than the rest of the country. In February, Minnesota's 5.7 percent unemployment rate was 2.6 percent below the nation average. Overall, Minnesota's economy appears to be on the mend. We have more work to do to reinvigorate the economic climate, but it’s encouraging that Minnesota is moving in the right direction. We will continue to work to pass our legislative agenda, which puts Minnesota’s economy on a forward path.
Within 18 months we were able to turn a $6.2 billion deficit into a $1.2 billion budget surplus and reduce future projected deficits by 75%. We did this by focusing on fiscal restraint, government efficiency and job promotion. If Minnesota continues fiscal restraint and focuses on policies that support job-growth and government reform, we will see stable budgets without raising taxes. Because we exercised a steady hand when dealing with Minnesota’s budget, we were able to improve Minnesota’s financial outlook. I will continue to support Minnesota’s economy by focusing on policies that promote responsible spending and encourage government reform.
This is a letter I sent to the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services calling for an immediate audit of the states Public Health Care Programs (Prepaid Medical Assistance Programs). There are currently four federal investigations into how Minnesota pays four HMOs for administering Medical Assistance which come, in part, as a result of legislation I introduced in 2011 and 2012. I will continue to work to bring accountability and transparency to the serious and expensive public health care programs in Minnesota. To be good stewards of the tax payer dollar, we must have complete and accurate data on how this money is being spent.
Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator
Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
June 7, 2012
Dear Administrator Tavenner,
I am calling for an immediate, independent Medicaid Integrity Contractor audit (MIC) of Minnesota’s managed care Medicaid Program.
On Thursday, June 7th, Ann Maxwell, Regional Inspector General from the Office of Inspector General, testified before the Subcommittee on Government Organization Efficiency and Financial Management of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In her testimony she reported challenges that limited the potential to successfully identify Medicaid fraud, stating, “Most fundamentally, there are significant shortcomings in the data available to conduct efficient, national Medicaid program integrity oversight through data analysis and data mining.” This is consistent with what I have discovered at the state level in Minnesota.
Minnesota’s management of the Medicaid program by the state’s Department of Human Services is problematic for several reasons:
- The Minnesota Council of Health Plans has stated that the Department of Human Services does not have the ability to review the data nor assess the administrative expenditures by the Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) who administer the program.
- The Medicaid rates in Minnesota are two and a half times higher than the national average and growing faster than the national average.
- Providers have reported flat reimbursement rates for a decade or more.
- The HMOs have reported large amounts of money deposited into their reserve accounts over the last several years.
- The Department of Human Services former Director of Managed Care Contracts is alleged to have stated that they are engaged in the manipulation of risk reserve calculations to obtain unwarranted federal funding.
- One HMO, UCare of Minnesota, returned $30 million dollars to the state of Minnesota in 2011, and cited one of the reasons for the return of money was, “Historically DHS rates set for General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) resulted in health plan losses which were offset by higher Medical Assistance payments. When GAMC moved out of managed care in mid- year 2010, Medical Assistance rates were not lowered to reflect this overpayment.”
Minnesota has been the target of several investigations into its Medicaid program. These investigations underscore efforts I have made in the Minnesota State Legislature to bring greater accountability and transparency to the way the Medicaid program is administered. Legislation passed in 2012 at the state level provides for an independent third party audit of the program which does not begin until 2015 and is authorized to only look back to 2014. However, the facts that have compelled the federal investigations indicate that potentially hundreds of millions dollars may have been overspent in Medicaid services in Minnesota dating back to 2003.
These facts warrant an immediate audit of the Medicaid program in Minnesota because, if it is true that funds have been obtained from the Federal Government in excess of what is appropriate, potentially hundreds of millions have been paid to the HMOs but not necessarily to providers or in services to patients. Historically, Medicaid audits are performed to detect overpayments to providers. It is imperative that an audit be performed on the HMOs in Minnesota, where no such audit has ever been performed because the state Department of Human Services doesn’t have any encounter data to audit. The Minnesota Department of Health issued a report on February 15th, 2012 which states, “The lack of consistency in reporting administrative expenses and investment income made it extremely difficult to compare the health plans to each other. It also made it difficult to determine if the reported administrative expenses were reasonable. To the extent health plans participate in the commercial market as well as state public programs, it was not possible to determine if administrative expenses and investment income was being properly and fairly allocated among all of a HMOs lines of business.”
The lack of encounter data justifies the need for an immediate audit. The health plans say the state has the encounter data but cannot read or use it. However, the state and Deputy Commissioner Scott Leitz recently said that encounter data is analyzed and used every day. This contradiction needs to be reconciled because the state has for years been sending CMS reports saying the rates are based on sound actuarial assumptions. The Actuary for the state (who has also been a consulting actuary for the health plans in Minnesota at the same time) states they do not verify the data that is given to them, and the health plans are saying the state can’t read the data. If this is true then the veracity and reliability of the data rests squarely on the health plans. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann testified to this fact in her statement at the aforementioned hearing when she stated “There is a complete lack of verifiable data.” I can attest to this in my own conversations with the HMOs and the Department of Human Services. CMS has the Medicaid Integrity Contractors and the funding in place to commence an immediate examination of this egregious lack of accountability.
The Medicaid Integrity Program provides CMS with the ability to perform an immediate audit in Minnesota. I urge you to take such action before the end of the current year, 2012.
Why I Voted no on the Vikings Stadium Proposal
The Legislature passed and the Governor signed the Vikings Stadium bill which spends nearly $1 billion dollars of which the state has committed $400 million. The price tag and the process attached to this bill compelled me as your elected Senator and steward of the taxpayer dollar to vote against the bill.
The Vikings Stadium proposal had several alarming elements that, despite the efforts of myself and other legislators, was not remedied. A primary source of funding for the stadium is to be derived from electronic pull tabs. In order for this to work, pull tab revenue will need to double and then increase by another 30%. Even then, pull tab revenue will need to continue at that pace for 30 years. When one considers the fact that over the last ten years pull tab revenue has declined by 30% one can see that we are bucking a negative trend with the hope that we will reverse the trend, increase it by 130% and then keep it up for thirty years. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration the regressive tax and social costs of gambling addiction.
Proponents of the bill claimed that the Vikings owner compromised by agreeing to increase his funding by $50 million to $477 million, however in the end deal the Vikings owner obtained the naming rights which are estimated at $200 million, plus another $100-200 million in personal seat licenses. Top that off with a $200 million grant from the NFL and you have a sweet deal for the Vikings with the Minnesota taxpayer picking up the tab.
Some may choose to criticize me for voting to pass the Conference Committee Report on this legislation and I make no excuses for this vote which was a procedural move to slow down a bill that was being forced on legislators without proper deliberation (one must have voted yes on passage of the report in order to move that motion for reconsideration).
Media hype, pressure from lobbyists, and even something as popular as the Minnesota Vikings, will never be a reason for compromising on principle and fiscal responsibility. This was a raw deal for the taxpayer and I could not in conscience vote for it regardless of my fondness for football.
March 23, 2012
CONGRESSMAN ISSA TO HOLD HEARINGS ON HEALTHCARE SPENDING
(ST. PAUL) - Congressman Darrell Issa (R-California), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has announced that congressional subcommittees will hold hearings regarding the lack of transparency, accountability and oversight over Medicaid funding in Minnesota.
Allegations have been made that the state inflated healthcare spending figures in order to receive additional, unwarranted matching funds from the federal government. State Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge), a leader on the issue of HMO transparency, sent a letter to Issa alerting him to the potentially improper use of healthcare funding
Nienow stated, “I am pleased that Congressman Issa plans to hold hearings on HMO transparency and the alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars earmarked for Minnesota’s healthcare programs. Steps must be taken both at the state level and at the federal level to ensure Minnesota’s healthcare programs have proper oversight. I have requested hearings in the State Senate to help shed light on what may have been an improper use of tax dollars and to encourage independent, party audits of Minnesota’s HMOs who administer our healthcare programs.”
State Senator Mike Parry (R-Waseca), chair of the Committee on State Government Innovations and Veterans, also plans to hold an oversight hearing to explore Department of Human Services’ failure to comply with the Office of the Legislative Auditor’s request for information on the alleged misuse of healthcare dollars.
State Senator John Marty (D-Roseville), an advocate for increased HMO transparency, was also encouraged by the upcoming hearings. “MARTY STATEMENT,” Marty said.
According to Issa, a hearing entitled “Is Government Adequately Protecting Taxpayers from Medical Fraud?” will be held on April 25th at 9:30 AM in a joint meeting of the Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and National Archives and the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending.
For more information, Issa’s statement and other supporting documents can be read it at ______________.
|NIENOW BILL CREATES PERMANENT SOLUTION TO PAY BACK CURRENT AND FUTURE SCHOOL SHIFTS|
(ST. PAUL) -- Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) introduced a bill today that creates a permanent statutory mechanism to pay back the current, and any future, school shift at an accelerated rate by withholding one percent of general fund appropriations until the shift is paid back.
Senate File 2452 directs the commissioner of management and budget to withhold one percent of general fund appropriations, with the exception of constitutionally-allocated and debt service payments, to provide an annual increase in the aid payment percentage for school districts. Under the bill, all state budgets will continue to receive less funding until the school aid shift is paid.
“Paying back any school shift must be a top priority. This legislation will create a permanent statutory mechanism to GUARANTEE it happens. Key reforms and job-creating measures contributed to a budget surplus that allowed us to already pay back nearly half of last year’s new shift and pending legislation could fully repay it. However, existing shifts from previous budgets will still exist. Current law does not guarantee payback at all, but this legislation will change that,” Nienow stated.
Aid payment shifts have been used since 1983 to assist in balancing the state budget during difficult financial periods. In 2011, the final budget agreement increased the shift from a 70-30 shift to a 60-40 shift. However, job-growth policies and budget restraint resulted in a budget surplus and a reduction of the shift.
Nienow added, “This bill not only will pay back the current outstanding shift to our schools, but it also guarantees any future shift will be paid back in a responsible manner as well. This is a permanent, structural solution that will give our schools additional financial certainty. Putting this bill into law in combination with other responsible legislative measures could result in the shift being paid back in as few as eight years.”
The bill was given its first reading on the Senate floor and referred to the Senate Education Committee.