A needed push for early release of MNsure rates

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2014 - 7:18 PM

Timely release of cost information will help consumers.

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Photo: Courtney Perry • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Consumers buying health insurance on MNsure and the Affordable Care Act’s other new online marketplaces had six months to comparison shop and enroll for 2014 coverage.

But for 2015 coverage, that window is half as long, which is why it’s vital that Minnesota repeat the consumer-friendly, nation-leading move of releasing cost-of-coverage information as early as possible.

Last year, Minnesotans had this information almost a month before open enrollment kicked off, thanks to a bipartisan push to make it available early. This fall, if all goes according to plan, consumers shopping for 2015 coverage will get the information Oct 1.

That’s 45 days before open enrollment begins on Nov. 15. Consumers will also have this information before they cast their ballots in this fall’s election.

The push to release price information early again for MNsure customers got a laudable, high-profile push recently from Gov. Mark Dayton. The state’s Republican lawmakers also have called for an early release.

Dayton deserves credit not only for again pushing to make this information available early, but also for doing so when it carries some political risk. The governor, who is just finishing his first term, is up for re-election this fall.

Dayton’s office doesn’t yet know the rates for 2015 (the Commerce Department, which regulates insurance in Minnesota, is still working through the review and approval process). But if the rates go up, there’s a risk that voters could blame MNsure and the ACA for the hike, even though premiums had been steadily increasing long before the health reform law went fully into effect this year.

It’s important to remember that those buying private insurance on MNsure are generally people who do not get these benefits through an employer. Premiums for plans in this “individual market” have increased every year but one in Minnesota since 2000, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

In the early 2000s, there were years where premiums in the market increased by 18 or 19 percent. Premium increases again hit double-digits in 2008, but since then have hovered around 5 percent through 2011. The average increase was 2.2 percent in 2012 and 3.3 percent in 2013.

All of the plans selling on the exchange must agree to make rate information available early. Insurers stepped up to make that happen last year, and there appears to be admirable support from them for doing so again this year — as long as the process is fair and doesn’t give any plans a competitive advantage.

Consumers and politicians should keep in mind that premiums are only one part of the calculations needed to fully weigh the cost of an insurance plan. Copays, coinsurance and deductibles must also be factored in, which is why Minnesotans should be wary of political rhetoric this fall focusing only on monthly premiums. A plan with a higher premium may in fact be less expensive in the long run, because it better covers the other expenses.

Information about such cost-sharing is also expected to be released along with the rates on Oct. 1. Thanks to strong political leadership, Minnesotans again should have plenty of time to do their health plan homework.

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