As Minnesotans head out to score Black Friday bargains from retailers, there are also good deals to be had for those who buy health insurance on their own. Just like doorbuster specials on TVs and toys, consumers must act quickly take advantage of these new, lower prices for 2019.
About 155,000 people purchase private health insurance on Minnesota’s individual market, which serves those who don’t have employer-provided coverage or aren’t eligible for public health programs such as Medicare. Steep rate hikes during the middle part of this decade hit consumers hard, but many could see substantial relief when signing up for 2019 coverage.
Average rate declines range from nearly 28 percent for those who buy from Blue Plus to 7.4 percent for HealthPartners customers, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce. This is also the second year that rates have been stable or gone down in Minnesota, reflecting a stabilizing market and the success of a temporary “reinsurance” program passed in 2017 by the Legislature to lower premium costs.
Those who shop on MNsure, the state’s online insurance marketplace, could see costs reduced even more. The Affordable Care Act is still around despite congressional Republicans’ best attempts to end or sabotage it. The subsidies offered through the law still exist and can instantly discount individual plan premiums.
The financial eligibility guidelines may be more generous than many realize. In 2019, an individual earning up to $48,560 could qualify. So would a family of four with an annual income of up to $100,400. It’s important to note that MNsure is the only shopping site where consumers can see if they qualify for this aid. About two-thirds of the site’s customers did so in 2018.
Awareness still lags, unfortunately. A 2018 state Health Department survey found that 75 percent of Minnesotans who are currently uninsured would qualify for this financial help if they applied. Those with uninsured friends or family should point that out. In addition, those without insurance may qualify for MinnesotaCare or other assistance programs.
But the clock is ticking to take advantage of this improved affordability. The window to sign up for 2019 coverage began Nov. 1. The date it closes depends on where you shop.
Shoppers who don’t use MNsure — for example, they buy directly from the insurer — may only have until Dec. 15. But those who buy private plans through MNsure have until Jan. 13, thanks to a consumer-friendly extension by this state-run marketplace’s leadership. An important caveat: Even MNsure consumers must enroll by Dec. 15 if they want coverage to kick in on New Year’s Day. Coverage will start after Jan. 1 for those who enroll past the mid-month deadline.
Consumers spooked by previous years’ price hikes or by MNsure’s early technical problems should take a fresh look. Coverage may be more affordable than many realize, and MNsure’s performance has improved. Average wait times for callers are under 10 seconds, and call volumes are down — a good sign that fewer people are needing assistance with online enrollment. Those who want in-person help also have an abundance of options. MNsure has a county-by-county directory of certified “assisters’’ to help find this guidance close to home.
Minnesota’s uninsured rate rose from 4.1 percent in 2016 to 4.4 percent in 2017. Savvy shoppers out in force on Friday should bring the same zeal to finding health care deals and, in doing so, reverse that regrettable trend.