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MNsure CEO, Dayton talk fixes after rate increases: Enrollment period begins Nov. 1

Amid an election-year controversy over rising individual market rates, the head of MNsure talked earlier this month in Brainerd on what could be done to help individual market consumers who may find it harder to get health insurance in 2017.

Amid an election-year controversy over rising individual market rates, the head of MNsure talked earlier this month in Brainerd on what could be done to help individual market consumers who may find it harder to get health insurance in 2017.

As part of a tour ahead of the start of open enrollment, MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole visited the Brainerd Dispatch on Oct. 11 and sat down with the paper's editorial board.

"My job is not to play politics with people's health care," she said. "I'm here to make sure people have accurate information, and they know what to do, and when."

However, she acknowledged that the open enrollment period, which begins Tuesday, will overlap with the election season for eight days until Election Day on Nov. 8. Her job is to "cut through" confusion about MNsure brought about by the election.

"I think the political rhetoric out there right now only confuses consumers," she said.

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O'Toole said she had heard political attacks "every day" blaming MNsure for rate increases. She compared that to blaming Travelocity for the price of airline tickets. The insurance rates are negotiated between the companies and the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and MNsure can't legally coordinate with Commerce on the rates, she said.

"I don't have any sight line into them, legally I can't," she said. "We work with the plans on the back end, mostly on data sharing. We load their information into our site, we transfer back and forth enrollment data."

There's also another plot twist on the individual market this year: the two plans offered in the Brainerd area, Medica and UCare, have put limits in place on the number of people that can open enroll with them. Therefore, it's important that people enroll as early as possible so they have the best chance of getting in, O'Toole said.

A price comparison tool is available on MNsure.org, so consumers can gauge how the premium and deductible amount in each plan relates to those in other plans they have to choose from.

As to the question of what consumers are supposed to do once the two plans stop accepting people, she said she had been trying to get answers from the Department of Commerce.

"What I have been told to date is, the caps are reasonable and we shouldn't hit them," she said.

The individual market makes up a relatively small portion of the overall health insurance landscape in Minnesota, but an estimated 127,000 state residents are both expected to use the individual market in 2017 and aren't eligible for federal tax credits to alleviate the high cost of premiums. The tax credits are available only for individuals who make less than $47,520 or families who make less than $97,200.
Gov. Mark Dayton called another meeting of the Minnesota Health Care Financing Task Force, of which O'Toole is a member. She said the next gathering will likely focus on the individual and statewide markets. However, she emphasized that in the meantime short-term solutions were necessary as those without access to a federal tax credit will get "hit in the wallet this year."

However, O'Toole said the health insurance market is so volatile that "people will always need help" regardless, at least for the foreseeable future.

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She said reform was necessary by Congress, including an exploration of the reinsurance field.

A public option would also give consumers more choice, she said.

"What I would like to see is, everything on the table," she said.

Legislative solutions

On Thursday, the day before he was sidelined with a case of stomach flu, Dayton gave a phone press conference to greater Minnesota reporters on what his administration was doing to mitigate the premium increases in the short term.

Dayton's short-term plan is for the state to offer 25 percent premium rebates to Minnesotans on the individual market who aren't eligible for federal tax credits.

During the press conference, Dayton acknowledged he would need legislative approval to take up to $313 million for the rebates from the state's budget reserves. The rebate would be administered by insurers.

"It is my view that (the reserve) was set up as a rainy day fund, and it is now raining," he said.

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He called leaders in the Senate and House, but only managed to get ahold of Sen. David Hann, the Senate Minority Leader and a Republican. Hann said he would consider the idea, and Dayton wasn't looking for more than that, he said. Even if he had made contact with other legislative leaders like Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt on Thursday, he wouldn't have asked for a definitive yes or no answer, he said.

Rep. Greg Davids, a Republican from Preston who co-chairs the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee, proposed that Dayton ask the federal government for an extension of the open enrollment period by one month so that the Department of Commerce had time to attempt getting more insurers or plans into MNsure.

During the press conference, Dayton said he was "very much inclined" to do it.

"It was a very constructive suggestion," he said.

He added that his administration would vet the proposal.

Related Topics: BRAINERDGREG DAVIDSHEALTH
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