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MNsure rates still higher in SE Minnesota

Published 10:10am Friday, January 31, 2014

Seniors 65 or younger see increased insurance rate under new health care

Though most seniors have likely seen little change in their Medicare health insurance, residents who are younger than 65 may see higher insurance rates along with everyone else who signs up through MNsure this year.

Insurance rates are still higher in southeastern Minnesota than other parts of the state just a month into new insurance regulations under the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Rates are higher in southeastern Minnesota because of a lack of health care options — Mayo Clinic and Mayo Clinic Health System dominate the health care field in the area. That has translated to hundreds of dollars more in health insurance costs for individuals each month compared to the Twin Cities area, which has greater competition among health insurance companies because of multiple health care options.

“It seems like we’re kind of creating a new uninsured pod, which are the people outside of a tax credit area that are looking at premiums being anywhere from $900 to $1,300 per month for a husband and wife with two kids,” said financial adviser Chuck Moline. “They’re looking at that bill and saying, ‘This is higher than our mortgage payment,’ and going without insurance.”

Moline has kept track of the people who have signed up for insurance through him. The youngest person to sign up for health insurance was 45 years old, with a majority of people in their 50s and 60s signing up. Residents age 65 or older are eligible for Medicare, a separate program which isn’t much affected by the recent health insurance changes and online health insurance exchange MNsure.

Like other residents, seniors close to retirement age can get tax credits based on their income level, but there are few other breaks. That could change, as Blue Cross Blue Shield announced an agreement with Mayo Clinic this week on a new payment system designed to pay for better health care results while lowering overall costs.

“This new type of contract works because it embodies shared priorities and purpose,” Dr. Larry Lee, executive medical director for provider relations and quality at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, said in a press release.

Moline is hopeful the new agreement will help provide more insurance options for residents, which could lower insurance costs across the region.

Yet MNsure still faces issues four months after its release. There are still troubles with the online health insurance exchange, from long wait times to inaccurate information to bugs in the website.

A recent review by the UnitedHealth Group division Optum described a deeply flawed website that won’t be able to meet enrollment expectations without manual workarounds and other improvised fixes. People who don’t have insurance coverage by March 31 face federal tax penalties.

The review lays out several options for fixing the website that it said could take between 12 and 24 months. Among the options laid out are abandoning major aspects of the current website and essentially rebuilding it from scratch. MNsure officials commissioned the Optum review, and members of MNsure’s board of directors said at a meeting Wednesday they would immediately begin considering how to proceed from the options it laid out.

The review identifies a number of fundamental problems with MNsure.org, including:

— Lack of capacity for tying together all data entered by consumers.

— The inability for users to make changes to information they entered during the open enrollment period.

— Lack of access for workers to assist consumers who are shopping for insurance plans.

— Multiple sets of rules governing the website operations that lead to the potential for errors as they overlap.

— Inadequate testing capabilities for website functions.

In addition to rampant problems with the website, the Optum review tackled the MNsure toll-free call center, which has been plagued for many weeks by long wait times that continue to reach up to 50 minutes, the review said. The call center is inefficiently designed and should add about 100 employees to its current staff of 65, the review said.

A major flaw with the call center is that various types of calls for assistance all flow through the same operators, meaning people with minor, easy-to-answer questions are forced to wait just as long as people with more complex, time-consuming problems, the review said.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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