Commerce Dept. proposes to close health insurance 'safety net' by 2015

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Thousands of Minnesotans who rely on a state health insurance "safety net" will soon be shopping for new insurance policies sooner than anticipated under a plan proposed by state officials.

The Pioneer Press reports that the state Commerce Department wants to close the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA) by 2015.

The MCHA, established in 1976, offers individual health insurance to Minnesotans who have been turned down in the private marketplace because of preexisting health problems, such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes. Approximately 26,000 people are currently covered by MCHA.

The paper reports that the MCHA will no longer be needed under the Federal Affordable Care Act. According to the MCHA website, enrollees will have new options for health insurance, and insurance companies will no longer reject applications for coverage because of a preexisting health condition.

Officials were hoping for a slower phase-out of MCHA, according to the paper, and some patients on the program are afraid they will have fewer options and more difficult access to coverage. Dave Wiest, a health insurance agent in Medina, tells the paper there are several unanswered questions about what sort of options existing MCHA enrollees will have on the private market.

But Commerce Department spokeswoman Ann O'Connor says people will be able to obtain high quality, comparable insurance plans - many at better premiums - from all major carriers in Minnesota.

The Commerce Department plans public meetings this month in Duluth, St. Paul and Rochester as well as two video conferences to gather feedback on the transition plan. A final decision on the proposal to close MCHA on Jan. 1, 2015, isn't expected until Aug. 31.

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