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County prepares for MNsure: Oct. 1 launch date approaches for new insurance exchange

Babe the blue ox watches over a Friday MNsure board meeting. Babe is a MNsure mascot. Forum News Service photo by Don Davis

WILLMAR — Kandiyohi County’s family service staff is gearing up for the Oct. 1 launch date of MNsure, which is Minnesota’s new healthcare insurance exchange.

The state is getting the word out about MNsure with a humorous ad campaign featuring Paul Bunyan getting into all sorts of medical mishaps.

But the chuckles generated from the ads mask the hours of behind-the-scenes training of county employees, who are not only prepared to handle MNsure applications but also an increased number of applications for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare for those who still cannot afford to buy health insurance.

“This is going to be wonderful,” said Barb Kavanagh, who supervises Kandiyohi County’s financial assistance programs. “I definitely think this is going to help many people.”

The county has notified clients who currently receive Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare that nothing will change for them regarding health coverage on Oct. 1.

There will be “no big conversion,” said Kavanagh in a recent interview. “We don’t want people to panic in any way.”

Instead, people who may not have been eligible to receive Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare in the past may now be eligible because income limits have been raised, which means more Minnesotans than in the past will be eligible to receive health care at no cost or low cost.

Medical Assistance is Minnesota’s Medicaid program for low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities.

MinnesotaCare is the state’s taxpayer-supported insurance program for people who don’t qualify for Medical Assistance. The premiums people pay for MinnesotaCare depend on income level.

Kandiyohi County is expecting an increase in the number of people eligible for Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare and will process those applications.

At the same time, the county is ready to help eligible clients maneuver through MNsure, which bills itself as a one-stop shop to view marketplace health insurance options in terms of cost, coverage, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

By Jan. 1, people must have health insurance or face a penalty.

People can go online to the MNsure website ( for details about the program and access a program calculator, where information like income and family size are plugged in, to see what tax credits they may be eligible for to purchase health insurance. The calculator will also let them know if they’re eligible for Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare.

There are different levels of insurance plans from which to choose. There is the “bronze” category, which has lower premiums but higher deductibles as well as the middle-of-the-road “silver” plan that Kavanagh told the Kandiyohi County Commissioners this week is the category that is “very affordable” and is “most likely to benefit people.”

Kavanagh said the insurance rates — plus the fact that some children may be eligible for Medical Assistance while their parents could qualify for MNsure tax credits — will provide “great opportunities for some of these young families.”

There is also the “gold” category and the top-of-the-line “platinum” plan that could be appealing to people who need more coverage and can afford it.

On the other end, there is the “catastrophic plan” that could appeal to young, healthy adults because premiums are lower — but so are the benefits.

The different plans, which are available to individuals without affordable employer-provided healthcare and available to small businesses that meet certain financial criteria, will help meet the goal of MNsure to “have affordable healthcare coverage for everyone,” said Kavanagh.

The cost of insurance premiums will vary from one area of the state to another.

This 11-county region, which includes counties of Kandiyohi, Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Renville, Sibley, Swift and Yellow Medicine, is called “Area 5” in the MNsure plan.

Premiums in Area 5 are a little higher than in some areas and lower in than others.

Those differences may be erased for individuals who are eligible for tax credits.

Kavanagh recommends people use the MNsure website first to get basic questions asked, but said the county family service employees have been participating in online training and will be ready to help people on Oct. 1.

“We’ll do our best to help people see what decisions can be made,” said Kavanagh.

Reaching a “live person”

The MNsure Contact Center is a “live person” customer service resource that connects MNsure to the Department of Human Services, Minnesota counties, MNsure navigators and agents/brokers, and health insurers.

The toll-free number is 1-855-3-MNSURE, or 1-855- 366-7873.

Hours of operation are 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday throughout the open enrollment period of Oct. 1 through March 31, 2014.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750