State officials say MNsure will help address health disparities
Minnesotans soon can find competitive health insurance plans through MNsure, the state’s new health insurance marketplace, say State officials, who claim the program will help all Minnesotans, especially those from historically disadvantaged communities.
“Minnesota today has the lowest average insurance rates in the country” compared to other state exchanges, proclaimed State Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman last week during a Sept. 6 press conference at the State Capitol. His office has approved five companies — Blue Cross Blue Shield, Group Health, Medica of Wisconsin, PreferredOne and UCare — to offer 141 health plans, 78 of them for individuals and families and 63 for small businesses, through MNsure beginning October 1, when open enrollment begins.
Under MNsure’s four levels of plans, the monthly premium rates range from $90.59 (bronze) to $120.91 (silver), $141.16 (gold), and $150.75 (platinum). The bronze plans, for example, “are likely to have lower premiums but higher out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance.”
The four main factors that can affect the premium rate are age, where the individual lives in the state, whether or not the individual is a smoker, and the number of people covered by the particular plan he or she decides to purchase. Furthermore, explained MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov, these rates do not include financial assistance that is available, but all plans provide “essential health benefits” required by the Affordable Care Act.
“These low rates are associated with more comprehensive coverage,” she reiterated, adding that at least half of Minnesotans who will buy health insurance through the exchange “will be eligible for the [federal] tax credit.” Todd-Malmlov estimated that over a million Minnesotans will get their health insurance through MNsure.
Currently over 300,000 state residents are uninsured. “MNsure will be a new way to select insurance if [Minnesotans] don’t already have insurance provided by an employer,” stated State Health Commissioner Ed
Ehlinger. “This is good news for Minnesota.”
Minnesota is one of 31 states that can deny rates requested by insurance companies and can decide whether the rates are justified, claims Rothman.
Ehlinger briefly cited a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report released last week that examined exchanges in 17 states and Washington, D.C. and found plans as low as $146 in Baltimore and as high as $395 in Burlington, Vermont. The non-partisan KFF report also points out, “Most of the people enrolling [in the plans] are expected to qualify for tax credits that will lower the amount they must pay for coverage, which means that most enrollees will pay a lower monthly premium than the unsubsidized rates. Bronze [plans] have the most cost-sharing and represent the lowest level of coverage,” the report concluded.
Beginning January 1, 2014, all U.S. citizens and legal residents must have health insurance. As a result, beginning next month Minnesotans statewide will be able to choose from two to five insurance companies. Twin Cities-area residents, for example, will have five companies to choose from.
“MNsure will cover Minnesota from border to border,” noted Rothman, adding that 85 percent of Minnesota counties have three or more health insurance companies available in their communities.
Every Minnesotan will have the opportunity “to see what [health plan] best fits for them,” said MNsure Board Chair Brian Beutner.
The MSR asked the State officials both during and after last week’s press conference to further explain exactly how affordable MNsure is expected to be for those Minnesota individuals and families — especially Blacks, other people of color, and low-income — who are disproportionately among the uninsured.
“We know that disparities — access to quality care — have been a real issue in the United States and in Minnesota” for Blacks, other people of color and low-income people, said Ehlinger, adding that MNsure has “competitively priced” plans for consumers to choose from.
“One of the highest priorities of MNsure from day one was to address communities of color and the [health] disparities, in particular the issue of the uninsured,” responded Rothman. “With these low rates, what this does today is [that] more Minnesotans will be able to afford coverage, [and] these rates don’t include the financial assistance that is available.”
However, according to a recent article published in Finance and Commerce, engaging the African American community has not been a high priority: “‘I am absolutely outraged that for African-Americans, there’s no community engagement,’ said [Alfred] Babington-Johnson, whose group [Stairstep Foundation] works with African-American churches on [health and] social issues. ‘We intend to raise holy hell about this,’” he is quoted as saying in the Sept. 6 article (“MNsure outreach grants stir backlash from African-American groups”).
“These are very well-priced insurance plans,” Rothman told the MSR after the press conference. He fully believes that MNsure “will make those premiums even more affordable” and also expressed confidence that it will help all Minnesotans, especially those from historically disadvantaged communities.
“I believe that one of the biggest focuses for myself was to make sure that there was more access for more uninsured people and affordable [health insurance] for people who are uninsured,” said Rothman. “Now we’ve announced low-cost rates that will be good… The access really is critical, and I wanted to make sure that we are fully engaged.
“With the [MNsure] Call Center now up and running, I think there will be more navigators and more organizations that will help. The more we do that, the more we will be better off,” concluded the state commerce commissioner.
More information can be found on the MNsure website: www.mnsure.org or call the Minnesota Department of Commerce Consumer Response Team at 651-539-1600 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3602.
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