Low-income families face health price hikes because of MinnesotaCare cuts

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Health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs for thousands of people on low-incomes will increase because of cuts to MinnesotaCare that were approved this week.

Although a GOP-led attempt to repeal MinnesotaCare didn't make it through the latest legislative session, the Health and Human Services budget bill that was signed on Friday by Gov. Mark Dayton does feature cuts that will mean price increases for workers using the subsidized health program.

The Minnesota Budget Project says that the bill requires the program to generate an extra $65 million in the 2016/17 two-year budget cycle and $96 million in the 2018/19 cycle – through premium increases and a hike in out-of-pocket expenses borne by service users.

Minnesota's Department of Human Services told BringMeTheNews that the actual price changes won't be decided until June 30, but did provide information that indicated they could potentially add hundreds of dollars to family budgets starting Aug. 1.

The changes will affect people on MinnesotaCare who earn between 150 and 200 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG), which ranges from a household income of $17,505 for a single person, to $80,180 for a household of eight people.

In an example supplied by the DHS showing how premiums could increase (which comes from sample figures and is not a prediction), someone earning between 150 and 159 percent of FPG would see a $7 increase on their monthly premium– a rise of around a quarter on what they're paying now.

Those earning more could see their annual premiums rise by hundreds of dollars. Those earning 200 percent FPG pay $50 a month to MinnesotaCare currently in premiums, in the example given this would rise to $68-a-month, or $216-a-year.

Liz Doyle, of TakeAction Minnesota, wrote in the St. Cloud Times Monday that MinnesotaCare, the state's "Basic Health Plan," is a vital service for farmers, self-employed workers, students and young people who are "starting out in life and work hard for their income without the benefits of employer-provided insurance."

As of March this year, there were just under 105,000 people enrolled with MinnesotaCare.

Out-of-pocket cost increases could hit chronically ill

The Minnesota Budget Project points out that those with chronic illnesses could be hit the hardest, as they will be affected more by higher out-of-pocket costs every time they use their MinnesotaCare coverage.

Currently, MinnesotaCare charges a $2.85 monthly deductible, $3 copay for nonpreventative or mental health visits, $3.50 copay for nonemergency ER visits, $25 copay for eyeglasses, and a $3 copay for prescription drugs. Most other health visits require no copay.

The approved bill calls for MinnesotaCare to raise an extra $37 million through "cost-sharing increases" from Jan. 1, 2016, which the Minnesota Budget Project suggests could result in out-of-pocket costs "tripling," though the DHS has re-iterated that no increase levels have yet been decided.

"The changes will be hardest on Minnesotans who are dealing with chronic illnesses," the nonprofit MBP says. "That’s because the higher out-of-pocket costs will add up each time Minnesotans use their health insurance coverage."

"For example, someone who needs to see the doctor regularly to treat diabetes or mental health issues will see their already-tight budgets stretched even further," it added. "Increased out-of-pocket costs could also discourage sick people from seeking care."

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