On a holiday weekend that celebrates savvy shopping in addition to the big Thanksgiving meal, it’s worth noting that some of the best bargains are to be found on MNsure, the state’s online health insurance marketplace.
MNsure serves the individual insurance market, meaning those who buy health insurance on their own. Generally, this includes those who don’t get health insurance through their employers or from Medicare, the federal government’s health coverage for those 65 and older. MNsure also helps consumers determine if they qualify for medical assistance programs.
News this fall of hefty premium hikes for the individual market may have discouraged some from shopping for health insurance. That’s a mistake. As open enrollment for 2016 coverage continues through Jan. 31, there’s welcome news from MNsure that significantly more Minnesotans are qualifying for tax-credit aid that acts as an “instant discount” on monthly premiums. This falls well short of being a cure for rising insurance costs, but it’s helping to take the sting out of them.
According to MNsure, 72 percent of the 6,864 consumers who have bought coverage through commercial health insurers since Nov. 1 have been eligible for financial assistance. Last year, 55 percent of all those who bought these plans on the marketplace qualified. Some MNsure customers may also qualify for cost-sharing assistance to further offset deductibles and office copays.
The discounts are only available through MNsure. The online marketplace is also the only Minnesota shopping site where consumers can compare plans offered by various insurers and assess the total cost of coverage. That’s important, because low monthly premiums may not be as affordable when copays, coinsurance and other expenses are factored in.
One important caveat: no insurer is selling “platinum”-level plans on MNsure this year. These plans generally have higher premiums but cover more medical expenses. Many people with serious, ongoing medical concerns seek out this type of plan. State officials and insurers should work together in coming years to provide this level of coverage once again on MNsure.
So far, MNsure appears to be running more smoothly in its third year of operation. Officials for the exchange said there have been no unplanned outages or downtime since open enrollment began Nov. 1. The site is averaging about 75,000 visitors per week. In addition, wait times for phone assistance consistently have been around one minute.
There’s another timely reason to buy coverage. The federal penalty for not having insurance rises again this year. In 2015, it was $325 per uninsured adult in a family. In 2016, it could be $695 per uninsured adult.
The most important reason to buy coverage, however, is the peace of mind it provides. One accident or unexpected illness can result in ruinous medical bills. The responsible thing to do is protect yourself and family. Fortunately, there are many options available to make doing so more affordable.