Locals wait to hear more on MNsure

Published 10:45 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

As Minnesota makes progress on its own health insurance exchange, local small businesses wait to find out more on the upcoming health insurance marketplace.

Lawmakers created the marketplace, called MNsure, last month amid a contentious debate over rising costs of healthcare. The marketplace is touted as a one-stop-shop for individuals, families and small businesses looking for insurance plans, and the measure comes as health reform under the Affordable Care Act begins next year.

Yet many are waiting for more information before deciding whether to use MNsure, and some are concerned it could cause a major increase to claim costs for all Minnesotans.

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“I’m still kind of checking on it to wait and see how it’s going to affect us,” said Ron Whalen, owner of Whalen Automotive. Whalen and his son are the only full-time employees at the auto repair shop, but neither gets his insurance through the business. Whalen said his insurance agent isn’t even sure how MNsure will work, as insurance companies have until May 17 to submit plans to be sold on the health insurance marketplace.

Though MNsure won’t be open until this October, the state health insurance exchange will have several features ahead of its federal counterpart, including a way for residents to directly pay their insurance companies as opposed to through his or her employer, which lessens administrative work for businesses.

Minnesota is one of 17 states to create their own health insurance exchange, while the rest are allowing federal officials to create state-level marketplaces.

“Our issue was, it’s going to happen, so did we want it to be a Minnesota-based program or a federal program?” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin.

Yet some businesses and officials are concerned over cost impact of MNsure and similar marketplaces. A recent study found medical claim costs could raise by about 19 percent for Minnesota alone by 2017 under the health care reform, and 32 percent nationwide.

Claims costs are the main driver of health insurance premiums. The projected higher claim costs are partly due to sicker people joining the pool.

The Obama administration says the study ignores cost-relief strategies in the plan and the potential price-cutting impacts of competition.

Yet those costs are what several local businesses and business officials discussed with legislators last month before MNsure passed, according to Sandy Forstner, executive director of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s fees in there that we were concerned about that will be assessed on the premiums,” he said.

As the marketplace shapes up, more people will look to see whether MNsure will be able to save them money. Many business owners said it was too early to tell what would happen, or they didn’t know enough about MNsure to make an educated decision.

Then there are some business owners like John Deyo, of ViDeyo Arts, who gets insurance through his wife’s job at Austin Public Schools. He may not have to find out more about MNsure, as the marketplace doesn’t apply to businesses or organizations with more than 100 employees.

“I really don’t get too up in arms about it,” he said.


—The Associated Press contributed to this report.