The various roles of the insurance industry

A May 31 article (“UnitedHealth trims plans for selling to uninsured”) caught my eye. Most observers should know by now that the health insurance “exchanges” are the cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). They will list the insurance carriers competing to sell products to the uninsured who will need to apply for coverage under the act. The bidding will begin on Oct. 1. It would seem that the more competition there is, the better.

I was surprised at the lack of courage expressed by UnitedHealth’s CEO Stephen Hemsley’s announcement that his firm would be cutting back by half its planned participation in online markets. Why? The article states that “large insurers see little gain from quickly plunging into the new market.” Helmsley is cited as telling investors that the decision reflects a concern that the first wave of newly insured customers may be the costliest. UnitedHealth, which is based in Minnetonka, will “watch and see” how the exchanges evolve.

Of course the early enrollees will be the costliest; many are poor and have never had health coverage.

Helmsley’s timid attitude is a surprise, since the passage of Obama­care was in many respects a gift to the insurance companies, who were granted full participation. The alternate could have been the “public option.” If the insurance companies don’t step forward early on, that may be what we get: a government-run health care system with little insurance industry participation.

John F. Carlsted, St. Cloud

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A recent article noted that one in five Minnesotans will shop for health insurance on their own in the state’s new exchange next year (“MNsure exchange to cost $58.1 million in 2014,” May 29). To ensure that they make informed, financially savvy coverage choices, state policymakers must guarantee access to licensed, professional agents through the new marketplaces.

Consumers count on agents to educate them about their coverage options. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 76 percent of agents spend at least some of their time investigating insurance options on behalf of clients.

Nationally, 68 percent of small proprietorships rely on agents to help them purchase insurance plans. Without agents’ expert counsel, many could end up with plans that don’t suit their needs — and cost more than they should.

Janet Trautwein, New York


The writer is executive vice president and CEO of National Association of Health Underwriters.

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The value of having people who care

While I greatly admire Michael Golz’s determination and hard work after being dealt the hardship from both parents’ untimely deaths (“Despite loss, Minnetonka grad stayed on task,” West Extra, June 6), his sister-in-law, Allison Umberger, also deserves great respect. A young woman taking in a teenager and guiding him is very inspirational. Bravo! Really loved reading about her strong encouragement for the homecoming date. She’s a jewel.

The three “men” in her immediate family — her husband, Joe, her son, Bennett, and Michael — are very lucky guys. I hope they appreciate her kindness, attention and obviously willing spirit to do what needs to be done for her family.

Great story. Kudos to Allison and the rest of her family.

Jan Clymer, Minneapolis

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Labeled ‘controversial’ for no legitimate reason

Really, Strib? In your subheadline regarding Mark Ritchie’s decision not to run for re-election for Minnesota secretary of state, you state that he “was in the eye of multiple political storms” during his tenure.

Curious, because I didn’t remember controversial actions; the two recounts that happened while he was in charge were a big part of this “controversy.” He had nothing to do with the close counts in the first place, and he ran clean, above-board, transparent recounts to all but always-grousing Republicans, but this is enough to cast doubt upon his effectiveness?

You have responded in fine accord to the playbook of Republicans who repeatedly raise molehill issues to the status of mountains, both on a state and federal level (e.g., voter fraud, IRS, Benghazi, Associated Press) just to raise doubt in those not paying attention to the capabilities of prominent Democrats. The real story should be the lack of any real, positive, evidence-based, problem-solving legislation by these same Republicans.

Nancy Ruhland, Roseville

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Seems like there’s a fairly fuzzy line

Just a few pages apart on June 5, two articles appeared in the Star Tribune. One acknowledged secret e-mail addresses within a few government agencies, reporting on the right of the media and Congress to demand full access to this government correspondence. The other was about a man accused of sharing government secrets online and his related criminal trial. The accused is said to have revealed some information that Osama bin Laden used against U.S. troops.

I’m curious. At what point do our rights for full government transparency end and life in prison for “aiding the enemy” begin?

Steve Mark, Minnetonka

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Because of an editing error, the name of Kao Xiong’s attorney was incorrectly identified in a June 4 letter. Xiong was represented by Steve Meshbesher, who is not affiliated with attorney Ron Meshbesher.