Health care policymakers assumed that the rollout of one of the Affordable Care Act’s key components — new assistance to help pay monthly premiums — would be a straightforward affair. Consumers would jump at the chance to get this financial aid and quickly understand that new online marketplaces like MNsure were the only place to access this help.
A new report from the Minnesota Department of Health, however, underscores how badly experts underestimated the difficulty of introducing the law’s tax credit assistance. Nearly 108,000 Minnesotans who qualify haven’t tapped into the assistance, the report found, even as premiums continue to rise here and elsewhere.
Awareness also lagged on another key piece of information: that MNsure, Healthcare.gov and other state-run websites are the only places to qualify for the aid. Just 49 percent of Minnesotans in the individual market — meaning they buy insurance on their own instead of getting it through an employer or public program — knew that they needed to use MNsure. Health Department health economist Stefan Gildemeister said the lack of consumer awareness is “disappointing.” While his frustration is understandable, it’s also important to note that the ACA’s launch difficulties have revealed how complex buying health insurance is. There is public confusion about what the individual health insurance market is and who should buy on MNsure. Comparison shopping health plans is also a challenge, with low monthly premiums sometimes masking high cost-sharing. The 49 percent awareness figure is more respectable than it first appears.
The report’s conclusions are particularly useful this year. The decision by Blue Cross Blue Shield to significantly pare down its individual marketings for 2017 will have thousands of Minnesotans shopping for new coverage this fall. To their credit, MNsure officials are using the report’s findings to hone marketing and increase outreach to help people buy insurance and take advantage of financial assistance.
As a nonprofit insurer, Blue Cross has extra responsibility to partner with MNsure to ease the market disruption its decision will cause. Strengthening ongoing collaboration between the two, especially through consumer communication about aid available through MNsure, will help Minnesotans find affordable coverage this fall.