New year, new optimismPublished 7:01am Monday, January 6, 2014
4. Health care changes impacting Austin, southeastern Minnesota
Minnesotans and Mower County residents alike will watch and react as the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is implemented this year.
Local residents already face higher health insurance premiums than other parts of the state because Mayo Clinic and its affiliate, Mayo Clinic Health System — Albert Lea and Austin, is the only major health care provider for much of southeastern Minnesota.
“Living in southeastern Minnesota, we are the most expensive place to live in, in the state, as far as health care,” financial adviser Charles Moline said in November.
Only Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medica offer individual plans in Mower and Freeborn counties, and Blue Cross is the only small business insurance provider in the area. The lack of insurance providers, according to Moline, comes directly from the lack of health care options offered in southeastern Minnesota. Health insurance plans in the area can be up to several hundred dollars higher than comparable offerings in the Twin Cities.
MNsure is making progress, though. A last-minute spike in customers at Minnesota’s online health insurance exchange in the last part of December means almost 68,000 Minnesotans have enrolled for insurance under the Affordable Care Act provisions, as of Friday.
Yet many are still reporting long waits to get help signing up, and MNsure’s customer help line was swamped with calls at the end of December.
Moline is concerned not enough young people are applying, however. Though he has seen a lot more clients wanting to buy health insurance since November, he said, on Friday the average age of people coming to him to buy health insurance was around 57, and he hasn’t helped anyone under the age of 46 sign up for insurance thus far. Proponents of the new health insurance system say young, healthy people will help balance out medical costs for older or more ill Minnesotans, but Moline believes more young people will wait and take a tax penalty instead. What’s more, area families that have already signed up are expressing dismay at increasing costs.
“The increase in premiums certainly is hitting some folks very hard,” Moline said. “The ones who are not eligible for any kind of tax credit and are paying the full load are really getting sticker shock as to what they’re going to have to pay.”
Residents have until March 31 to sign up for insurance under open enrollment. Once the enrollment period ends, people won’t be able to buy health insurance until the next open enrollment period in October or a qualifying event, such as a divorce, a death or a job change.