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Minnesota looking into impact of Obamacare changes

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota officials are trying to determine whether President Barack Obama’s Thursday health care changes will affect the state.

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“Our Department of Commerce and MNsure staff are presently analyzing the details of the president’s pronouncement and will have more detailed information later about its effect on Minnesotans,” Gov. Mark Dayton said.

Minnesota likely will see a smaller impact than many other states because the state established MNsure, which is where residents may purchase insurance policies. About two-thirds of the states rely on a federal government Web site, which has been troubled since it went into operation Oct. 1.

The president announced that he will let insurance companies renew for one year the health plans for consumers whose policies would otherwise end.

Insurance companies have told thousands of Minnesotans that their policies will change in 2014. Unlike many states, Minnesota law does not allow the plans to be canceled outright.

Part of the reason for the change is that the old policies may not meet minimum requirements established by a new federal health care law popularly known as Obamacare. The president's Thursday change means those existing policies do not need to meet the new requirements.

Obama made the change because a new federal Website designed to allow Americans to buy health insurance policies has not worked well and only a relatively few Americans have been able to buy policies.

“We fumbled the rollout on this health care law...” Obama said. “That’s on me.”

Senior White House officials said it will be up to insurance commissioners in individual states to allow the Obamacare fix to go ahead, and will be up to insurance companies to renew plans that have already been canceled.

Insurance companies must tell policy holders that their plans do not meet the new minimum standards and must inform them about other options on the new marketplaces, including the availability of subsidies to help them pay their insurance costs, the officials said.

While MNsure faced some technical issues when it launched Oct. 1, the federal site fared far worse.

A MNsure spokeswoman said the agency does not know how many Minnesotans may be affected by the Obama changes.

Jenni Bowring-McDonough of MNsure said that it has always been possible to make changes to choices people have made, so they can switch back to their current insurance policies if they prefer that to one they already signed up for under MNsure.

However, she said, Minnesotans who want to see if they qualify for federal government subsidies must use MNsure.

“Some coverage outside of MNsure may not be as robust as those plans found through MNsure,” Bowring-McDonough said.

She said that she did not know how long it will take for state officials to sort through all possible impacts from the Obama changes.

Policies sold on MNsure, and the federal site used by states surrounding Minnesota, are offered by traditional insurance companies, and not government. The new sites provide federal subsidies to lower insurance costs for many poor and even some middle-class families.

Republicans were not sold on the Obama fix.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., was among the first to react: “The bottom line is that Obamacare cannot be fixed. Higher premiums, doctor shortages and cancellation notices are the law’s main features and are only going to get worse. The only way to fix Obamacare is to scrap it altogether and start over with patient-centered reforms.”

The Democratic governor praised Obama.

“The president deserves great credit for keeping his promise to the American people,” Dayton said. “This will also provide time for those affected to compare policies on MNsure for options with better coverage at better prices.

He said that Minnesota’s decision to establish MNsure helped the state’s residents avoid problems experienced in most states. And, he added, at least 90 percent of problems Minnesotans had with MNsure were due to federal Web site problems.

Dayton said the Obama announcement was the best possible outcome to the well-publicized problems.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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