The summer has brought a double dose of good news for Minnesota consumers who buy health insurance on their own. Not only can they expect lower monthly premiums for 2019 coverage, they’ll also have an extended shopping period to weigh plans for the coming year.
This month, MNsure, the state’s online insurance marketplace, announced that the state’s “open enrollment” period will run a month longer than that of most states. Consumers here will have from Nov. 1 to Jan. 13 to buy a plan covering them next year. Those who live in the 38 states relying on healthcare.gov, the federally run insurance marketplace, will have to wrap up their coverage purchase well before Christmas. Their window to buy a plan is open only from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.
MNsure’s welcome extra shopping time comes on the heels of other positive news about 2019 insurance costs. Last month, the state Department of Commerce announced that Minnesota’s leading insurers are seeking individual insurance market rate cuts ranging from 7 to 12 percent. While those numbers are not final, the preliminary look at 2019 costs is encouraging, especially when many other states have announced price hikes.
The individual market serves the slender slice of Minnesotans — about 162,000 — who don’t get their insurance through an employer or a government plan such as Medicare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) aids many of these consumers through financial subsidies to help pay monthly premiums. But not everyone qualifies for this aid, which is why the proposed rate decreases are especially welcome.
The rate decreases and the extended shopping period underscore the value of Minnesota health care leadership. The state’s temporary but expensive “reinsurance” program — passed by the state’s Republican legislative majorities in 2017 — had a starring role in stabilizing 2019 costs. The extra month to buy coverage is due to Minnesota having MNsure, its own insurance marketplace, which allows for flexibility in setting deadlines instead of the federal government dictating them.
MNsure’s leadership merits praise for again working with insurers, brokers and consumer advocates to extend open enrollment. Health insurance is a complex purchase that involves comparing monthly premiums, out-of-pocket expenses and provider networks. Consumers must also gather the personal financial information needed to determine eligibility for ACA subsidies. It takes time to do it right, and some may need outside assistance to enroll.
Minnesota has made laudable strides in reducing the number of people without coverage. In 2011, 9.1 percent of Minnesotans were uninsured. That dropped to 4.3 percent in 2015, but regrettably has risen to 6.3 percent as congressional Republicans and the Trump administration have undermined ACA mechanisms needed to hold down premium prices.
Providing a longer window to buy insurance won’t roll back coverage losses, but it’s part of the solution. The purchasing flexibility MNsure provides is serving Minnesota consumers well.