Minnesota prepares to release early snapshot of MNsure health insurance premiums for 2015

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MINNEAPOLIS — The state Commerce Department is preparing to release an early snapshot of 2015 premium rates for policies that will be sold on Minnesota's health insurance exchange, MNsure.

The data should give Minnesota consumers an idea of how much their insurance will cost them next year, how the state's rates will stack up against the rest of the country, and whether any new health plans will offer policies through MNsure. The department will most likely release the information sometime this week, spokeswoman Anne O'Connor said.

Many individuals who bought private insurance on the exchange likely will pay more next year given that the largest and cheapest carrier, PreferredOne, abruptly pulled out of MNsure this month, leaving the market to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners, Medica and UCare. MNsure offered some of the lowest premiums in the country thanks to PreferredOne's aggressive pricing for the inaugural year, but the carrier decided the strategy was unsustainable.

While consumers buying polices through MNsure will get an idea of whether their premiums will change, MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough cautioned that people who qualify for subsidies won't have a clear picture of their costs until open enrollment begins Nov. 15. They'll be able to recalculate their eligibility then, and all consumers can shop for a better deal.

Officials with the four remaining health plans in MNsure declined to say how their rates will change for 2015. Medica spokeswoman Dannette Coleman said margins in the industry are tight, but her company hopes to expand membership from the approximately 5 percent of private-plan signups it had this year.

"We do hope and expect that we will grow our enrollment from the previous year, but we also believe a stable market is critical. ... We think it's very dangerous and unsustainable to price too aggressively in this market," Coleman said.

Other states' experiences suggest rate hikes may not be inevitable for everyone.

According to the McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform, premiums for 28 percent of the "silver" level plans offered on 19 state exchanges went up more than 10 percent from 2014 to 2015, but premiums for 14 percent went down by 10 percent.

Those numbers didn't include Minnesota. The management consulting firm's report also says some of the cheapest plans are becoming even cheaper with competitors entering the market and existing companies cutting rates.

No new insurer has publicly announced plans to offer policies on MNsure for next year. But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released preliminary findings last week showing exchanges across the country will have 25 percent more insurers, or 77 new carriers, in 44 states.

Minnesota's rate release also should show how premiums and choices will differ across the state next year. Southeastern Minnesota consumers had fewer choices and higher rates than the rest of the state this year. Rates were cheapest, and consumers had more choices in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud areas.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's administration originally planned to wait to release premium information until open enrollment begins, but it retreated under fire from Republicans who charged that he expected higher premiums and wanted to conceal them until after the election.

State Rep. Joe Atkins, the lead House author of the bill that created MNsure and co-chair of the Legislature's MNsure oversight committee, said that while the carriers haven't disclosed their rates yet, "they're all intimating that they're very competitive." The Inver Grove Heights DFLer said he's looking forward to seeing how the 2015 rates in Minnesota compare with neighboring Wisconsin, which is on the federal exchange.

"We're 88 percent lower than Wisconsin right now, and I'm hoping and frankly expecting we'll be in that same ballpark when it's all said and done," Atkins said.

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