Minnesotans will get a month longer than consumers in most states to buy 2018 individual health insurance. They ought to be aware of this and take full advantage to find the best coverage for themselves and their families.
The extra time comes courtesy of a praiseworthy move by MNsure, the state’s oft-maligned but steadily improving marketplace, to extend the federally set open-enrollment deadline from mid-December to mid-January. The additional four weeks will give consumers time to shop, navigate the MNsure website or seek assistance from the state’s insurance brokers and community-based navigators. This will play a crucial role in helping Minnesota maintain the historic strides it has made in reducing the uninsured rate.
Despite the monthslong congressional debate over the Affordable Care Act’s future, President Barack Obama’s health reforms remain the law of the land. Eligible consumers who buy insurance on their own can still tap into the law’s premium tax credits to discount monthly premiums for coverage that begins in early 2018.
But consumers in many states will regrettably have a much more limited time frame than in previous years to shop, compare and qualify for this help. This year, the federal government is reducing open enrollment from 12 weeks to six weeks. It starts Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15.
Consumers in the 36 states that rely on Healthcare.gov, the federal government’s insurance marketplace, will have to shop more swiftly than they are accustomed to. But federal regulations gave Minnesota and the 13 other states that run their own marketplaces flexibility to extend the deadline.
MNsure’s leadership admirably seized upon this opportunity. Open enrollment still begins here Nov. 1. But Minnesotans have until Jan. 14 to buy coverage, giving them extra time to make smart choices or seek outside expertise. More than 70,000 people in the state obtained coverage during 2017 open enrollment through insurance brokers or community-based navigators. Another month will ensure that consumers can book an appointment and get their questions answered.
The additional month also gives Minnesotans time to grapple with the inevitable glitches that will crop up. The performance of MNsure and other online marketplaces is improving, but they remain a work in progress. Now consumers have breathing room to work through any technical problems.
It’s important to note that the Obama reform’s premium payment assistance is available only through MNsure. Similarly, the extra month is available only to those who buy on the state-run website — at least at this point. Some consumers who buy individual plans may purchase directly from insurers. It is unclear whether Minnesota’s plans will match the extended open enrollment for these customers. But the competitive pressure on them to do so from MNsure is welcome.
One of the many lessons learned from the ACA’s rocky launch is that health insurance is a complicated purchase. The MNsure move reflects that reality and takes away a common excuse — “I didn’t have time” — for not shouldering the responsibility to buy coverage.