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Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman described the choice of companies providing health pland for the regions of the state.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Minnesota's home-grown health insurance exchange pays off

  • Article by: JOE ATKINS
  • September 30, 2013 - 7:39 AM

Less than a year ago, we Minnesota leaders had a critical decision to make. We could either have a health insurance exchange imposed upon us by the federal government on Oct. 1, 2013 — as Gov. Scott Walker opted for in Wisconsin — or we could create our own exchange.

We chose to do it ourselves.

MNsure is Minnesota’s new online marketplace for health insurance, a place where people can comparison-shop and pick the insurance that’s right for them at affordable prices.

We’re already seeing the positive results of our decision to “keep it local.” The federal government recently released average premium costs for 47 states, and the information confirms that Minnesota will have the lowest average premiums — not just in the Midwest, but nationwide — on plans sold through exchanges.

In Minnesota, the average monthly premium across all age groups will be $192. The next lowest average is in Tennessee at $245. And the national average is $328.

Unfortunately for Wisconsin residents, as a result of Walker’s decision to throw in with a federally run exchange, they will see average monthly premiums of $361. That’s 88 percent higher than the average premium here in Minnesota. What a difference it makes to have a governor like Mark Dayton who is willing to stand up for Minnesotans and for our top-flight health care system.

It’s important to also note that the average premium rates I cited above do not include potential premium discounts, which will further lower premiums for lower- and middle-income Minnesotans.

These lower costs deliver better value as well. As part of the Affordable Care Act, you can’t be denied for preexisting conditions; out-of-pocket spending is capped; there are no lifetime limits, and preventive care is covered at no cost to the patient.

Thus, a father with a heart condition will no longer be denied coverage for a preexisting condition, and he’ll be able to get coverage that doesn’t cost more than $1,000 a month. A 27-year-old cancer survivor will be able to get high-quality coverage that she can actually afford. An entrepreneur won’t be prevented from starting a business due to exorbitant health insurance costs.

While there’s been a lot of discussion about MNsure and exchanges in general, they are not a new concept. Massachusetts implemented the first one in 2006.

Individuals in Massachusetts saw premiums drop by 21 percent, and families saw a 40 percent decrease, according to a New York Times report. For the rest of the nation, premiums increased by 13 percent for individuals and by 14 percent for families over the same period.

State-based health insurance marketplaces like MNsure make sense for more reasons than just low rates, however. When there’s a problem, it is good to know we can dial a local number, not one with a Washington, D.C., area code.

An example occurred when there was an accidental release of private data a few weeks ago about 1,500 insurance agents who had registered with MNsure. Within 27 minutes, the process was underway to confine the release, fix the problem and prevent any future occurrence. The MNsure board and legislative oversight committee have already met and have prompted action as well. I can’t imagine that sort of immediate responsiveness to a problem in gridlocked Washington.

If we had gone the route our Republican colleagues had pushed for — if we had done nothing and allowed the federal government to put in a top-down exchange — every Minnesotan using MNsure would be paying more and getting less, just like Wisconsin residents are now seeing.

By keeping it local, Minnesotans will not only have the best health care in the nation, they will also have the lowest costs in the nation. This is great news for individuals, families and small businesses who have struggled to get affordable insurance for years.

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Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, was the chief author of the health insurance exchange law in the Minnesota House.

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