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Minnesota Opinion: On MNsure plan heads in right direction:

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From The Associated Press

An excerpt from recent Minnesota editorials.

As Minnesota embarks on its plan to open the state health insurance exchange Oct. 1, public buy-in will be key to its success and that buy-in will be driven by the quantity and quality of information the public is able to acquire.

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So the recent push to offer information on health insurance plans slated to be offered on the state's insurance exchange a month or so earlier than planned stands as a step in the right direction.

At the end of July, the Minnesota departments of commerce and health asked the health insurance plans participating in the health exchange to provide information on their plans, including pricing information about a month before the exchange is expected to be open for business.

Officials say providing the information a month before people can purchase plans simply makes sense and gives people and small businesses a little more time to study hundreds of products to be offered on the exchange.

Insurance brokers, legislators and consumers have been asking for more information on the plans and complaining that there is too little information being provided ahead of the exchange being open for business, according to a report in Politics in Minnesota.

But the commerce department said state law prevented it from providing information on the plans, including pricing information, until the "effective date" of the plans, according to the PIM report. So the commerce department sent letters to the nine plans that will be offering some 400 products requesting they make the effective date Sept. 6.

Commissioners of health and commerce wrote to the plans saying the request to release details earlier is "in the public interest."

Four of the plans contacted by PIM seemed to suggest they were willing to comply with the request for earlier release given certain caveats. UCare said it supported early release if all plans move up the approval date so as to create a sort of level playing field it seems. It favored release of rates that all had been "reviewed, approved and networked" by the Commerce Department.

HealthPartners supported release after health department had "completed approval of all products to be offered in 2014."

Blue Cross Blue Shield seemed so suggest it too would be willing to comply if all plans released in September did not change by the opening of the exchange in October.

Medica was needing to "dig into the details" before it responded to the request for early information, according to the PIM report.

Most of the responses seem measured and few of the plans seemed willing to outright reject the early release of information.

If some don't comply with early release, we think it's to their own disadvantage and that of potential customers. Early release of the information shouldn't be really wrought with controversy.

With millions of dollars and new customers at stake in the new health exchanges, the health plans concerns about a level playing field are reasonable. And if the commerce department hasn't officially approved some products or plans for sale Oct. 1, it seems it would be reasonable they do so before the September release. That only benefits consumers. Would anyone buy a plan that had a "pending approval" attached to it?

Still, these kinds of requests for consumer information seem to be at the heart of what exchanges were all about. So they are a step in the right direction. We'd be troubled by a bureaucracy hampering fair and balanced release of plan and rate information to the detriment of consumers.

Clear and concise information on health insurance plans should be the standard for the new exchanges. The public/private partnership that will make them work should see that as their first and most important charge.

The Free Press of Mankato

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