MNsure open enrollment is approaching this week
WILLMAR -- As they start shopping for health care coverage through the MNsure exchange this fall, Kandiyohi County residents are in for some sticker shock, but in a good way. Rates statewide for 2019 coverage purchased through MNsure are decreasi...
WILLMAR - As they start shopping for health care coverage through the MNsure exchange this fall, Kandiyohi County residents are in for some sticker shock, but in a good way.
Rates statewide for 2019 coverage purchased through MNsure are decreasing anywhere from 7 percent to 27 percent, and the benchmark plan in Kandiyohi County is decreasing 20 percent.
Nate Clark, MNsure chief executive, calls it "really great news for consumers."
"We take that as a signal the markets are stabilizing," he said.
Clark has been traveling around the state this month to spread the word that the start of the open enrollment period for 2019 is just around the corner.
MNsure enrollment begins Nov. 1 and will end Jan. 13, a month longer than the open enrollment period for the federal exchange. Enrollment through healthcare.gov, the federal exchange, ends Dec. 15.
Minnesotans in the individual health plan market who want coverage as of Jan. 1 have a deadline of Dec. 15 to sign up.
The MNsure exchange had a rocky launch in 2013. Skyrocketing health plan rates and enrollment caps made for another anxiety-ridden enrollment period two years ago.
This year promises to be one of the smoothest yet. Despite uncertainty at the national level, consumers in the individual market can still purchase health care coverage, and the plans available in the Minnesota marketplace are still comprehensive and cover pre-existing conditions.
MNsure continues to make significant investments in technology to improve its website and make it more user-friendly, Clark said.
A revamped window-shopping feature made its debut Oct. 1, he said. "It's easier to use. You can do more efficient side-by-side shopping."
New technology also has been installed to more efficiently route and queue telephone calls to the MNsure helpline and hold down the wait time, which last year averaged 10 seconds.
MNsure enrollment is setting records almost every year. The 2018 open enrollment period saw 116,000 sign-ups, the most ever. Household tax credits have averaged $585 per month this year, and more than six out of 10 households are eligible to receive a tax credit for buying their health care coverage through MNsure.
According to MNsure data, the average tax credit for Kandiyohi County enrollees is even higher - $784 per month - and 79 percent of households are eligible to receive the credit.
Many people mistakenly believe they don't qualify, a myth that Clark wants to dispel.
"A key message we'd like to get out there is don't assume you earn too much to qualify for tax credits," he said. "Just make certain you aren't leaving money on the table."
As a state-run exchange, MNsure has flexibility that the federal exchange does not, Clark said. It offers a longer enrollment period and invests in marketing and outreach to get out the word to consumers. An especially important service has been the statewide network of brokers and navigators who can help guide consumers through a process that's often complicated.
"That's actually one of the most popular aspects of the MNsure program," Clark said.
Jon Marchand has been a navigator with United Community Action Partnership since MNsure's launch in 2013. Customers are already lining up for appointments, he said last week.
"We see a lot of returning families and individuals," he said. "We unpack the plans and we look at the details of the plan and help them make their best decision."
Although consumers still have some time to window-shop and do their research, Marchand and Clark urge people to get ready sooner rather than later. One step they can take now, especially if they are a returning customer, is to make sure they can log onto the MNsure website with their username and password, Clark said.
The majority of enrollees are expected to stay with their existing coverage but he suggests checking out other options in case something else is a better fit. "We still encourage consumers to come in and window-shop," he said.
One issue to look out for this fall: With Medicare cost plans being phased out of many Minnesota counties Jan. 1, navigators who assist with Medicare enrollment are likely to be extra-busy.
The creation of Carris Health and subsequent shifts in the regional marketplace also may affect provider networks, so consumers will have to pay attention to who's on the list of participating providers, Marchand said.