ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Gov. Mark Dayton announced Tuesday he is pushing to release prices for the state's health insurance exchange on Oct. 1, more than six weeks before Minnesotans can start picking more plans — and a month before they head to the polls.
Republicans have criticized Dayton's administration for not committing to publish the information before Election Day, suggesting Democrats are hiding potential rate increases until after the gubernatorial race. Dayton told reporters Monday that he hadn't decided on an early release and accused the GOP of playing politics with the state's exchange, MNsure.
But Dayton's plan, outlined in a letter sent shortly before a meeting by a legislative committee that oversees the state exchange, calls for an Oct. 1 release of health insurance rates. Those rates were set to be published before open enrollment begins on Nov. 15, but their release can be pushed up if all participating health plans agree with the Department of Commerce's request.
The move will give Minnesotans more time to select the right health plan, Dayton wrote in the letter. Rates were published almost a month early last year.
Rep. Tara Mack, an Apple Valley Republican on the oversight panel, welcomed the news of a possible earlier release but said it was "a bit of a missed opportunity" to not start that push earlier.
"I certainly think it's a good idea today. I thought it was a good idea back in March and April when we were hoping to see this done," Mack said.
The Department of Commerce, which negotiates rates for MNsure health plans, said it recently received initial proposals from providers. Deputy Commissioner Tim Vande Hey told the committee he's confident the governor's timeline gives negotiators enough time to settle on fair prices.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota is one of five health plans providing coverage through MNsure. The company supports an earlier release so long as every health plan is required to meet the same deadline, Scott Keefer, vice president of policy and legislative affairs, said in a statement.
Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, expressed concern that an earlier release could flood MNsure with Internet traffic at a time when the agency is still trying to iron out months of technical issues. An external analysis presented to MNsure's board last month identified 41 important flaws that need to be addressed before open enrollment.
Democrats and Republicans on the oversight committee also debated the health exchange's role in a reported 40 percent drop in the state's uninsured population. The study, commissioned by MNsure and performed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, estimated the number of uninsured Minnesotans fell by more than 180,000 between Sept. 30 and May 1.
Rep. Joe Atkins, an Inver Grove Heights Democrat and co-chair of the oversight committee, predicted the state's uninsured ranks will continue to drop as MNsure addresses website woes.
"The rollout of MNsure was kind of a stumbling effort," he said. "It made it difficult for some folks to enroll."
But Republicans questioned whether MNsure was truly responsible for the decrease. Several lawmakers noted that the vast majority of new insurance enrollments were through the publicly supported programs Medicaid and MinnesotaCare.
"While we are happy that more people have access to care, let's be careful about how much we're spending," said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake.