A disappointing setback in the federal rollout of the Affordable Care Act should help dispel lingering doubts about Minnesota’s decision to build a homegrown version of the online health insurance marketplaces called for in the controversial health reform law.
Minnesota lawmakers in March approved legislation — on mostly party-line votes — that officially makes the state one of 17 to build and run a health exchange. Because of that, and because of the advance work done by Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration, the part of the state exchange serving small businesses and their employees should be fully operational when enrollment begins this fall.
That will not be case in the 33 states that turned over the design and construction of their exchanges to the federal government — often because of anti-Obamacare politics.
About a week ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that the part of the federally built exchange serving small businesses and their employees will not be fully operational this fall. Although few details were given about the delay, it’s likely linked to the high and unexpected number of states that decided to rely on the federal government to build their health insurance marketplaces.
Small businesses and their workers still will be able to buy on the exchange in these states. But two key features of the small-business exchange will be delayed until 2015:
• Employee choice: A fully functional exchange would let employers set a coverage contribution level for their employees, then allow employees to pick from competing plans using this contribution level. The delay means the status quo for employees for another year. Their employers will shop from competing plans, but employees are limited to what the boss picks.
• Premium aggregation: This is a fancy way to say that the exchange website will be a one-stop shop for payment, easing employers’ administrative burden by taking their payments for insurance and distributing them to the health plans their employees’ choose.
In contrast, the Minnesota exchange is expected to have these features available this fall, making our state exchange both easy and attractive to use for businesses and their workers. It’s clear that the state team working on the exchange’s development put a high priority on meeting business needs. In turn, that should boost the confidence of the business community in this new marketplace as fall enrollment nears.
The attention to detail also bodes well for the consumers who will use the exchange — now dubbed MNsure — to buy individual policies and determine eligibility for tax credits and other assistance to obtain coverage.
“As a result of establishing MNsure, Minnesota controls its own destiny and is not tied to what the federal government chooses to deliver,’’ Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said in a statement. “Independence from federal control was and continues to be a compelling reason for MNsure.’’