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African-American Community ‘Fighting To Get A Seat’ At MNSure’s Table

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – MNsure — Minnesota’s new health insurance program — is under fire Tuesday from the state’s African-American leaders.

They say MNsure is ignoring groups who have been working for years to sign up the uninsured.

In a small, north Minneapolis office, the Stairstep Foundation trains lifestyle coaches to work in 140 churches. It’s a small part of what Stairstep’s been doing for years.

The group applied for a MNsure grant to help African Americans sign up for health insurance. So did the Urban League.

But both groups — as well as others — were denied.

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

He says the freeze-out of African American groups is even more frustrating because African-Americans make up 17.9 percent of Minnesota’s uninsured.

“Instead of us being fully engaged in outreach, we’re fighting to get a seat at the table,” Babington-Johnson said.

State Sen. Jeff Hayden (D-south Minneapolis) represents a large part of Minneapolis with uninsured residents, and he sits on a committee with oversight of MNsure.

He’s pressing MNsure to find out if anyone of color helps decide who gets grants.

“How many of those people are African or African-American?” he asked MNsure.

The answer he got was: none.

MNsure has already spent $9 million making TV commercials featuring Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox – ads meant to target Minnesotans as a whole.

But Babington-Johnson is hoping more effort is made for people he’s trying to reach.

“Everybody needs to hear about MNsure, but what’s going to make MNsure successful is if the uninsured enter the pool,” he said.

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