MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After more problems at Minnesota’s online health care exchange, the Republican candidate for Minnesota governor says if he’s elected, he’ll make drastic changes to MNsure.

And Jeff Johnson is pressing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to do more to stop premium hikes for small businesses.

MNsure’s largest and lowest cost provider — PreferredOne — said this week it’s dropping out of the health exchange for financial reasons.

Separately, some small businesses say they’re bracing for premium hikes.

Johnson brought his campaign to Minneapolis-based Mack Engineering, a precision machine parts company that says health care premiums for its 28 employees are about to go up — a lot.

“Beginning Dec. 1, our company will be receiving a 34-percent increase in our premium,” said Jennifer Salisbury, one of the owners. “To me and my family of four, that’s a $4,000 increase.”

Johnson blames Gov. Dayton for Mack’s premium hike because he didn’t sign a waiver giving small companies another year to comply with the new health care law.

The Minnesota Commerce Department’s Anne O’Connor says the waiver isn’t necessary. Unlike Mack Engineering, 75 percent of the state’s small businesses have already complied.

Here’s O’Connor’s statement:

“As of today, three-fourths of businesses in Minnesota’s small-group market are compliant with the ACA.

Commerce estimated that allowing an extension for the 25 percent of the market that were not in compliance would increase the insurance rates for the other 75 percent of the plans by six to 10 percent.

This would penalize the vast majority of small businesses and their 216,000 employees who already had compliant health insurance plans and also bring instability into the market.”

Johnson isn’t confining his criticism to Gov. Dayton. He says MNsure is so mismanaged, he’ll take drastic action if he’s elected.

“I would start by firing the board and the top staff,” Johnson said. “They have been a failure. It’s been an unmitigated disaster since day one.”

Johnson is trying to make health care, and MNsure, a campaign issue.

Political analyst Larry Jacobs, the Walter and Joan Mondale Chair at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, says it’s a good one — if Johnson can make it stick.

“It’s a prayer come true for Jeff Johnson,” Jacobs said. “It is a ready-made ad, an attack line for Jeff Johnson as he tries to sharpen his campaign and give it some lift.”

A spokesman for the Dayton campaign, Jeremy Drucker, said Johnson’s attempts to exempt some businesses from the Affordable Care Act would backfire:

“Commissioner Johnson evidently doesn’t know, or won’t say, that most of the cost increases he cites are the result of improvements in coverage required by the ACA, such as no disqualification for pre-existing conditions; comprehensive coverage that includes doctor’s visits, maternity care, and hospitalizations; and preventative care, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and cancer screenings, including mammograms. To allow insurers to continue to provide Minnesotans with inadequate health care coverage is decidedly not in their best interests.”

Late Thursday, Gov. Dayton told reporters that Jeff Johnson “doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

Republicans will try to make health care the main issue of the campaign, arguing that it doesn’t work.

There is certainly turbulence at MNsure, but it’s also true that more Minnesotans have health insurance now than ever before.

Ninety-six percent of residents are currently insured.

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