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MNsure board votes to fund additional grants amid pressure

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The MNsure board will do more to help fund additional grants to help community groups get more people signed up for health insurance using the state's new online exchange.

The Star Tribune reports that the unanimous vote came just one day after MNsure leaders came under fire from community leaders, legislators and Governor Mark Dayton.

MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov said the additional money would come from savings where costs can be adjusted.

The pressure started Tuesday when the leader of a Minneapolis-based group rooted in the African-American community critized MNsure, the state's new health insurance marketplace, after being denied funding for outreach programs.

The Pioneer Press reported that 30 groups were chosen to split $4 million in grants intended to connect the uninsured with health care coverage, but none of the recipients focused on assisting African-Americans was chosen.

"No African-American community-based organization received any resources,” said Alfred Babington-Johnson, the president and CEO of the Stairstep Foundation, told WCCO.

Black Minnesotans account for nearly 18 percent of uninsured residents, according to the television station.

Babington-Johnson sought funding for a network of about 150 churches that would work to enroll African-American residents through MNsure, but he was denied along with the Minneapolis Urban League and several other black community groups.

When asked at a legislative oversight committee hearing held Tuesday how many African Americans were involved in deciding who received grants, MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov said: none.

"I appreciate the work you've done, but you blew it," state Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said at the hearing.

MNsure spokesperson John Reich told the Pioneer Press that a lot of grant recipients will serve communities of color across the board. However, Brian Beutner, chairman of MNsure's board of directors, said the agency will attempt to reallocate funds for more grants.

MNsure's $9 million television ad campaign featuring Paul Bunyan is also facing criticism. Hayden said the commercials are ineffective in reaching minorities, especially new immigrants, the Star Tribune reported.

"They don't relate to a 27-foot-tall white guy with a beard," Hayden said.

Gov. Mark Dayton told the Associated Press Wednesday that he shares concerns that MNsure has neglected black and Somali community groups in its initial enrollment drive. Dayton plans to meet with board members Wednesday afternoon.

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