The long-awaited start of MNsure, Minnesota’s new online health insurance exchange was October 1. Implemented as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act. MNsure has been highly anticipated by those seeking affordable health insurance. But it has also drawn attention as consumers with disabilities are concerned about the functionality and ease of use.
MNsure’s rollout has not been without hiccups. An accidental release of personal data last month raised concerns. There are also concerns that not every aspect of the program would be available right away.
The Affordable Care Act requires everyone in the United States to have health insurance, either through an employer or through individual and family policies. Anyone who doesn’t have insurance will have to pay a penalty. Insurance exchanges are a way of providing coverage for those who don’t have the other options.
MNsure officials said that the insurance exchange website, www.MNsure.org, is designed for easy access for people with disabilities, so that all consumers can find the services they seek in a format they need. The website is designed to meet state standards for accessibility and ease of use.
Additionally, consumers with hearing or speech disabilities may contact the toll-free MNsure Contact Center line via their preferred telecommunications relay service at 1-855-366-7873 (1-855-3MNSURE).
MNsure is committed to accessibility and provides reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with physical or mental disabilities. If an individual needs help accessing any MNsure information or services, contact the MNsure Accessibility and Equal Opportunity Office at AEO@MNsure.org or 612-279-8955.
MNsure will offer a total of 141 plans for individuals and families. Sixty-three plans will be available to small businesses. Premium rates vary by factors including age, region where a person lives and smoking. Plan levels are dividedinto bronze, silver, gold and platinum, with platinum being the most comprehensive and costly. A bronze policy covers about 60 percent of average expected costs, while a platinum policy covers about 90 percent of costs.
The higher the premiums and the more extensive the coverage, the lower the out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and co-pays. Anyone using the exchange is advised to take time to compare health insurance policies, because the policies can be complicated.
“MNsure is pleased to offer Minnesotans a wide array of plans with some of the lowest premiums in the country,” said Brian Beutner, Chair, MNsure Board of Directors. “For many Minnesotans, financial help through MNsure will mean that they will be able to afford health care coverage for the first time.”
Plans sold through MNsure will offer coverage that will include prescription drugs, maternity, preventative visits, and hospitalization, among others.
“Minnesotans in every corner of the state, regardless of income, age, or medical history, will be able to choose from multiple plans to find the coverage that is right for them,” said April Todd-Malmlov, Executive Director of MNsure.
Questions were raised when the geographic variations in insurance were compared. For example, a policy that costs $408 per month in the Twin Cities could cost more than $800 in Rochester. Although state officials said the variation in premiums will be moderated if not eliminated by premium tax credits available to many consumers from the federal government, the regional gaps raised questions. Federal law calls for states to be divided into “rate regions” that health insurers use when setting premiums. Minnesota is divided into nine MNsure regions.
People who buy policies rather than getting insurance through employers, and small businesses with fewer than 50 workers, could start using the Minnesota exchange October 1. People can also use MNsure to enroll in Medicaid and MinnesotaCare public health insurance programs.
But because not all of the information was likely to be posted in time for the startup date, site users may have to follow web links or wait for information.
As Access Press went to press, parts of the website were still being put into place. Agencies around the state were still training their federally required consumer advisers or “navigators” to help people through the system.
But dozens of agencies around the state were still hurrying to train their navigators in time for the October 1 startup. For general questions about MNsure, call 1-855-3MNSURE (1-855-366-7873).