Archived Story

New laws and new questions

Published 5:01am Sunday, July 28, 2013

Local business officials walked away from a seminar about upcoming health insurance reform with one big lesson: Next year’s changes to state health care law will prompt more questions than answers as the new rules roll out.

“The impact of reform will be different for each one of you,” Lin Nelson, director of legislative action for insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield, told more than 30 Austin residents Friday morning. Blue Cross partnered with MNSure, the newly created health insurance exchange, to offer an informational session on health insurance changes to Austinites.

According to state officials, it’s hard to measure how changes spurred by the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will affect people. Some residents will see an increase in their premiums, while others’ premiums will decrease. Small business and individual insurance plans will likely change the most, based on new criteria, but large employers — businesses with more than 50 employees — should see little changes to the way their health plans are implemented.

“It kind of confirmed a lot of the things that we’ve already seen and heard proposed,” said Nate Jansen, a human resources worker with Quality Pork Processors Inc.

Under the new regulations, health insurers must offer plans that cover 60, 70, 80 or 90 percent of health costs — what state officials call bronze, silver, gold or platinum plans. Only those plans will be offered on MNSure, which the state will unveil this October.

Though state and health officials expect technical problems implementing the plan at first, MNSure officials estimate more than 1 million Minnesotans will register for health insurance through the online health insurance exchange by 2016.

The state Department of Commerce has yet to iron out a few details key to the new regulations. Under the upcoming reform, a small-business employee can choose a company insurance plan or buy an individual plan, provided the small business health plan isn’t affordable. Yet the state has yet to define what affordable means, according to health insurance and state officials.

Large employers won’t face penalties for health insurance noncompliance until 2015, but small businesses and individuals will have to comply immediately come 2014. Yet state officials have yet to fully define those regulations and some businesses could successfully challenge sanctions over the next few years.

“I think there will be a few ‘Gotchas’ with this law,” David Forman, attorney with Baudler, Maus, Forman, Kritzer & Wagner, told the audience. “[Those questions] are going to be answered by regulators as it works out.”

The complexities are leaving some residents concerned about the changes. Attendee Kathy Green is self-employed, but wishes a health insurance informational session was offered earlier in the reform process.

“Until it’s implemented, I’m not sure how it’s going to affect my family,” she said.

State officials said subsidies will be available for residents with individual plans. An individual making up to about $43,000 annually will be eligible for some form of subsidy, as will a family of four earning up to $94,000 a year. Employees at large businesses may pay up to 9.5 percent of their annual income for access to their company’s plan.


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