MNsure premiums to rise 4.5% next year

ST. PAUL -- Premiums on the state's MNsure health insurance exchange will rise in 2015, but they will still likely be the lowest in the nation. The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced Wednesday that the rates offered by the four insurers s...

ST. PAUL -- Premiums on the state’s MNsure health insurance exchange will rise in 2015, but they will still likely be the lowest in the nation.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce announced Wednesday that the rates offered by the four insurers still participating in the exchange will increase an average of 4.5 percent over their 2014 levels.

“Not only is the average rate increase low for companies returning to the exchange, but Minnesotans living in each area of the state will have more product choices available this year to fit their individual health insurance needs,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a statement.

Republican critics of MNsure were quick to point out the actual cost for many users will likely go up much more than 4.5 percent, signaling the health exchange and its rocky start will remain a political issue ahead of the Nov. 4 general election.

“I think the 4.5 percent rate increase is completely bogus,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, a Republican from Eden Prairie. “It’s deceptive.”


It’s impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison of 2014 and 2015 premiums without including PreferredOne, Republicans note. PreferredOne had more than half the private insurance enrollments in 2014’s exchange and the lowest-cost plans, too. The Golden Valley insurer announced last month it was dropping out of the 2015 exchange because it couldn’t sustain its pricing.

Hann pointed to Commerce Department figures that suggest Twin Cities residents who selected the lowest-cost plans on the exchange in 2014 will see an average increase of 18 percent to 37 percent. These lowest-cost plans were among the most popular on the exchange.

The exchange will feature 84 plans statewide - up from 78 - from the four remaining insurers and a new one - Blue Plus, an affiliate of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Premiums offered by Medica, HealthPartners and Blue Cross Blue Shield will increase, on average, by 1.8 percent, 8.12 percent and 17.15 percent, respectively.

Premiums offered by UCare will actually decline an average of 9.07 percent. All UCare policy-holders who purchased insurance through MNsure will see at least some decrease in their premiums, UCare spokeswoman Wendy Wicks said.

With all the changes to the exchange’s offerings, MNsure CEO Scott Leitz urged consumers to examine all available plans, including their costs, rather than just renewing their current policies.

“We offer transparency and level the playing field for all competitors and, most importantly, for consumers,” Leitz said.

Leitz said consumers should start shopping early because the open enrollment period will be shorter this year, running from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15.


He also said the consumer experience on the MNsure website will be much improved.

“It’s definitely improved; it’s not perfect,” Leitz said. “There will still be some areas where consumers will need to work with us.”

In addition to faster page-load times, Leitz said MNsure’s call center, which was staffed by only 30 people when the exchange opened last fall, now has a staff of 300.

Politicians from both parties seized on the opportunity to either cheer the exchange’s premiums or to decry them.

“Democrats promised that the average family would save $500 per year thanks to MNsure,” said Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska. “Instead, health insurance premiums are going up yet again.”

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton pointed out that many of the rate hikes will be offset by tax credits, which will be available to more policy-holders as the price of the state’s benchmark plan rises.

“At worse, it’s a very modest increase,” Dayton said.

There are nine zones across Minnesota and the changes in rates are mixed. For a 40-year-old in southern Minnesota, the bronze plan would rise 36 percent; the silver plan would go up 17 percent; the gold plan would rise 15.5 percent; and the platinum plan would go up 23 percent.


But for a 25-year-old in southeast Minnesota, the monthly rate would rise 5.4 percent on the bronze plan; fall 4.3 percent on the silver plan; fall 0.1 percent on the gold plan; and rise 5.5 percent on the platinum plan.

Those comparisons don’t include the tax credits.

“I realize we’re 34 days before an election, but it is permissible to actually recognize and even applaud good news,” Dayton said.

More than 327,000 people enrolled for coverage via MNsure, and exchange officials have said the state’s rate of uninsured people has dropped more than 40 percent.

Minnesota launched the MNsure health exchange to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance this year or pay a tax penalty.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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