State’s insurance exchange to list costsPublished 11:05am Friday, September 6, 2013
By Christopher Snowbeck
ST. PAUL — Can Paul Bunyan chop down the partisan rancor over health care at the state Capitol?
The super-sized debate will likely resume Friday as the Dayton administration releases information about premiums for 2014 on the state’s new health insurance exchange.
Key provisions of the federal health care overhaul take effect next year, and Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights sought to soften the tone Thursday with what he called a friendly wager involving Bunyan and the premium release.
Republicans have predicted that premiums will spike as health insurers are forced to shed pre-existing condition exclusions and offer health plans with richer benefits.
Democrats have predicted consumer savings, because many people will have access to tax credits and coverage will be more comprehensive.
If there’s a giant increase in premiums, Atkins said, he would wear a Paul Bunyan-style flannel shirt to the Legislature’s special session Monday.
But if the new information shows that Minnesota premiums are affordable, then Atkins wants Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, and Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, to “don Paul Bunyan’s trademark red-and-black flannel,” he said in a news release.
Bunyan is the mascot for MNsure, the state’s new health insurance exchange.
“I think we’re going to find out on Friday that this new, competitive MNsure marketplace is going to make Minnesota a nationwide leader in affordable health insurance,” Atkins said.
Zellers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Thompson said he remains convinced that premiums will rise. He acknowledged that tax credits will help some people, but he argued the law also brings new financial burdens through taxes and coverage mandates.
“I will pass on the offer to gamble on the damage that will be done to Minnesota families,” Thompson said in a statement. “I will leave that up to Governor Dayton and legislative Democrats.”
State officials on Friday will release information about premiums and plan options available on MNsure. Starting Oct. 1, individuals and small businesses will be able to use the new marketplace to buy coverage for 2014, although they can still buy through the traditional health insurance market if they prefer.
The information won’t have much relevance for most Minnesotans including people who get health insurance through large companies as well as those covered by Medicare and the state-federal Medicaid program.
But it will be important for people who buy policies on their own and could be useful for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. It also will be important for people who have lacked insurance in the past, because most Americans starting next year will be required to buy coverage or pay a tax penalty.
“The people who will be most interested are those who are uninsured, and middle income folks who buy insurance on their own,” said Eileen Smith, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans.
It’s unclear how much consumer information will be released Friday, Smith said, adding that full details about health insurance options will be available Oct. 1.
The law allows individuals to buy coverage through March 31 and still not pay a penalty.
The law calls for the creation of new exchanges in all 50 states. So far, premium information has been released in just 17 states and the District of Columbia.
It’s difficult to compare the price of coverage in 2014 with current premiums because plans offered on state exchanges must meet several new regulatory requirements, according to an analysis published this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Starting next year, for example, all policies will be required to cover a minimum set of services, and all products will be grouped into five levels — catastrophic, bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Insurance companies won’t be allowed to deny people coverage based on pre-existing conditions, but premiums will vary to some extent based on an applicant’s age, tobacco status and the region they live in.
“These changes make direct comparisons of exchange premiums and existing individual market premiums complicated,” researchers at the foundation wrote. “While premiums will vary significantly across the country, they are generally lower than expected.”
— Distributed by MCT Information Services