Consumers buying health care coverage this fall on Minnesota’s new insurance exchange likely will have more choices than are currently available, bringing a spark of competition as health reform rolls out in the months ahead.
UCare aims to offer a health plan for individuals for the first time in its history, according to documents filed Friday with the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
The state’s other major health plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners and Medica, also are seeking approval from the state to compete on the exchange, known as MNsure, when open enrollment begins Oct. 1.
Blue Cross and Medica will be offering plans for individuals and small businesses, while HealthPartners will offer an individual plan.
The Commerce Department is reviewing rate filings, and will have final say on what insurance choices will be available. A decision is expected in July.
UCare was started in 1984 by a group of family medicine doctors at the University of Minnesota Medical School and has previously only provided coverage for Minnesotans enrolled in public health programs — families enrolled in MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance, seniors eligible for Medicare and adults with disabilities.
It is seeking approval to offer a health plan that would simplify coverage for people whose financial and employment status changes, forcing them to move between individual coverage and Medical Assistance. Another UCare option is aimed at early retirees and families where one spouse is 65 or older and qualifies for Medicare but the other isn’t yet eligible.
UCare is the fourth-largest plan in the state, with more than 300,000 people enrolled in plans in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. In the past year it has grown significantly, adding about 45,000 members after winning a competitive bidding process in the Twin Cities area.
Ghita Worcester, UCare’s vice president of public affairs, said the expansion into the commercial market is a “logical extension” of work the Minneapolis-based insurer has been doing. About a third of its members are enrolled in one of its Medicare products.
Minnesota is one of 17 states that is building its own exchange, a new competitive marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act. The exchange is aimed at helping those who don’t get coverage through the workplace as well as businesses with fewer than 50 employees shop for coverage using a website or toll-free phone number.
Officials say the MNsure exchange will be the gateway to insurance for more than 1 million Minnesotans when it is fully operational.
While consumers and small business owners can still buy insurance through a broker or directly from the plans in 2014, the MNsure exchange is the only place where those who are eligible can tap into federal tax credits and subsidies to make premiums affordable.
Little information about the Minnesota health plans’ offerings has been made public, so it’s unknown how much the premiums will cost.
They are expected to rise for some people, particularly young adults.
California earlier this week became the first state to release prices for health plans offered on its exchange, and the much-feared widespread “sticker shock” didn’t happen, though some will face much higher premiums. More than three dozen California health plans submitted bids and 13 were selected.
Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth decided not to offer a plan on the California exchange, as did two other national insurance players, Cigna and Aetna.