Others’ Opinion: MNsure on verge of big test

Published 9:47 am Tuesday, September 30, 2014

—The St. Cloud Times

This could well be the week Minnesotans begin to see just how much MNsure — the state’s health insurance exchange — has changed after its first year of operations.

How so? MNsure officials have indicated they expect to release the new insurance rates in early October, which starts Wednesday.

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Those rates, which last year ended up being among the lowest in the nation, already face a serious test with the recent news from insurance provider PreferredOne that it would drop out of MNsure for 2015.

As media reports since that Sept. 16 announcement have stated, of the five companies that sold through the exchange last year, PreferredOne offered the lowest prices. Even though it was smaller than the other companies — Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners, Medica and UCare — it attracted the largest number of consumers buying private plans.

Logic dictates PreferredOne’s low prices were a huge factor in that attraction. Of course, logic also dictates PreferredOne probably is leaving the exchange because that strategy failed to make (enough?) money for the company, which has a network of more than 10,000 physicians, hospitals and clinics across the Upper Midwest.

(Don’t look now MNsure critics, but that almost seems like what happens in a free market.)

On a more serious note, the move certainly poses a number of questions.

Among them are what will happen to the 24,000 to 30,000 consumers who bought PreferredOne coverage last year through MNsure? Will they return to the exchange for options or perhaps keep their coverage even if it means paying a higher price outside the exchange?

Similarly, how will PreferredOne’s departure affect rates from the remaining four companies? While the state has influence over what is offered, losing the low bidder would seem to raise the odds of rates increasing sooner than later.

And finally, looming over all that uncertainty are lingering questions about whether MNsure’s website has been fixed so that Year 2 enrollment efforts won’t see a repeat of the multiple technical disasters that plagued its debut.

Without a doubt, the rollout of MNsure bordered on a debacle. As bad as it was, though, there is no denying Minnesota’s exchange offered some of the lowest rates nationwide and ultimately reduced the state’s ranks of the uninsured by about 40 percent.

Making similar gains without exorbitant rate hikes in 2015 would be a good sign.

Distributed by MCT Information Services