Southeastern MN gets a second option for health coverage through MNsure

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Southeastern Minnesota will now be able to join the rest of the state in comparison shopping for health insurance through MNsure.

Until now residents of the region have had only one choice available on the state's online insurance exchange. But Wednesday MNsure officials approved Medica to sell health plans in both Olmsted and Dodge counties, according to a report in the Pioneer Press.

MNsure connects residents from all over the state with health insurance plans. But how much consumers pay for their coverage varies substantially depending on their location.

The Star Tribune reports the impact is greatest on Minnesotans who live outside the Twin Cities. Metro area consumers have the broadest options; they can choose among five of the state’s major carriers and pay the state’s lowest prices.

Southeastern Minnesota's lack of choices has been a source of frustration there since MNsure's website opened to shoppers on Oct. 1. Experts told MPR that the Mayo Clinic's presence in the region is a likely factor in limiting the choices. They say it's an expensive market for a competitor to enter, so Mayo has little competition and its prices – which are at the high end — become the standard for the region.

In announcing Medica's arrival in the southeast, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a news release, "Minnesotans, regardless of where they live...deserve choice when purchasing health insurance coverage. One we identified the opportunity, we worked swiftly to facilitate a solution with Medica on behalf of consumers to provide more choice and access to health coverage."

It is not immediately clear how Medica's premiums compare to Blue Cross, but prior to the Medica options being approved, a Blue Cross plan with a premium of $326 a month was the only option for a 40-year-old in Rochester.

The Star Tribune's report says the shortage of options also faces consumers in northeastern Minnesota, particularly outside of Duluth. There, residents have three choices of insurers and pay about a third more than in the Twin Cities. The dominance of Essentia Health in the Arrowhead is thought to have the same impact as the Mayo Clinic does on options in the southern part of the state.

Forum Communications reports that MNsure top leaders are holding meetings around the state to clarify questions about price and other issues.

Executive director April Todd-Malmlov told a recent Woodbury meeting that customers may get adjustments in premiums if their income rises or falls. She said MNsure takes a customer’s income and family size into account and that federal aid that could reduce rates.

More than 40,000 people have visited the MNsure website, 19,000 accounts have been created and there are nearly 4,000 waiting to buy policies. Policies must be purchased by Dec. 15 for them to begin Jan. 1.

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