MNsure will give shoppers more time to compare health plan options for next year than the federal website that serves as the insurance exchange for most states.
The federal government announced earlier this year that open enrollment for states using HealthCare.gov would start Nov. 1 and stretch to Dec. 15, a shorter period than the three-month open enrollment originally planned for 2018 coverage.
Federal officials tightened the timeline as part of several changes meant to stabilize the individual market, where health insurers have complained that lax rules let consumers run up costs by dropping in and out of coverage when they need a medical service.
Minnesota and other states that run their own health insurance exchanges were given flexibility by the federal government to use what's called "special enrollment" to effectively extend the sign-up period. Earlier this month, MNsure officials announced open enrollment in Minnesota would run from Nov. 1 to Jan. 14 — a shorter period than past open enrollments, but looser than the federal timeline.
"Shopping for health care coverage is complex, and we heard loud and clear from stakeholders and consumers that Minnesotans needed more time to shop than the federal open enrollment period allowed," said Allison O'Toole, the MNsure chief executive, in a statement. "The additional four weeks will ensure that Minnesotans will have the necessary time to get help from assisters and find the coverage that is right for them."
The open enrollment period applies to the MNsure portion of the individual market, where about 90,000 Minnesotans currently buy coverage. It's the market primarily for people under age 65 who are self-employed or don't get coverage from their employer.
Minnesota's individual market has been volatile under the federal Affordable Care Act, with steep premium jumps and shrinking health plan options.
In comments to the federal government earlier this year, three health insurers in Minnesota expressed support for the idea of a shorter open enrollment period. One insurer suggested the start of open-enrollment could be moved up by two weeks, if consumers needed more time.
The idea of an earlier open enrollment period, however, was complicated by the state's new reinsurance program in the individual market. The program could deliver significant premium savings next year, but it's contingent on federal approval — and it's not clear how quickly that approval might come.
Health insurance counselors, called "navigators," said they supported the MNsure decision.
"We were really concerned that the six-week open enrollment period was too condensed for us to meet the needs of our clients," said Meghan Kimmel, president of Portico Healthnet, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that employs navigators.
Another 75,000 individual market consumers buy coverage directly from insurance companies, rather than via MNsure. It wasn't clear Monday whether insurers will adopt the MNsure timeline for the "off-exchange" open enrollment.