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MNsure advocates, opponents debate meaning of first data 'snapshot'

mnsure meeting
MinnPost photo by James Nord
“Most of the enrollment is going to come in in December for January,” said MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov.

Although most observers agree it’s too early to rate how Minnesota’s health insurance exchange is performing, advocates and opponents are staking out their views of the first numbers anyway.

MNsure, now just two weeks old, released its first MNsure Metrics report [PDF] on Wednesday, announcing that nearly 3,800 people are “significantly down the enrollment process to get coverage.”

But there’s disagreement over whether that number — and more importantly, future enrollment — will be adequate to ensure the exchange has enough people to provide cheap insurance and keep its own budget afloat.

So far, the exchange’s governing board is taking a wait-and-see approach on many issues.

At its Wednesday meeting, for example, the board deferred setting the percentage that the exchange would withhold from premiums. Chairman Brian Beutner joked that a future meeting in December would take 17 hours if the members kept putting issues off.

Board members said there simply isn’t enough information to make some decisions yet.

“We have a lot of uncertainty about how much revenue we’ll have,” Board Member Phil Norgaard said. “We know it’s going to be lower than we thought it might be because of the cost of premiums,” which on average were lower than expected.

Exchange staff had previously been releasing information on the number of website visits, user accounts created and calls to the exchange phone center but couldn’t provide details on how many people had actually secured insurance coverage.

As of Wednesday, they said about 12,000 people have created accounts, and about 5,600 people had completed applications for coverage. Of the roughly 3,800 people in the process of enrolling, only 406 were getting private health coverage.

The remaining 3,400 people were enrolling in public health programs available before the exchange’s launch.

 The health insurance marketplace, which hopes to attract 135,000 people during the 2014 open-enrollment period, expects interest to spike toward the end of the year – before the insurance mandate penalty kicks in.

“Most of the enrollment is going to come in in December for January,” MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov told reporters after the meeting. “In the first year, we likely will be on the low end.”

MNsure Board Chairman Beutner said after Wednesday’s meeting that the enrollment numbers and user data lack context at this point.

“It’s early indications — and that’s really all it is —and I’m pleased that you have that many [people] who were that active that early,” Beutner said of the first enrollment numbers. “Is there any benchmarking? No. Because you’re creating something new.”

Beutner did praise the early numbers as a positive indicator. Todd-Malmlov also told reporters that the first two weeks of sign-ups were outperforming the “low” enrollment goals that MNsure is predicting.

Republicans, who had been bashing the exchange before its launch, agreed that the information available now is sketchy — and then criticized the program for it.

“I don’t think  [Wednesday’s numbers are] a real indication of where it’s at,” GOP Sen. Michelle Benson said during an interview, “which is a problem in and of itself.”

“If everybody waits … to do their enrollment and there are any capacity glitches or they have trouble transferring information, now all of a sudden we really end up pushing up against that Dec. 15 deadline in order to be able to get insurance without a penalty,” added Benson, a health reform expert in the Legislature.

She and other Republicans also have been criticizing what they call a delay in getting people’s enrollment information to the health insurers. Todd-Malmlov argued that the state wasn’t delaying the transfer but was checking its connections to the carriers.

At the meeting, MNsure also announced about $4 million in outreach grants to 29 organizations, which are expected to reach out to more than 300,000 Minnesotans. The exchange, which took fire for the process it used to select the initial grants, missed multiple internal deadlines before announcing the awards.

Even with the uncertainty and messaging from both sides, Beutner said it is important to focus on the data, not on the partisans praising or criticizing the exchange.

When asked about Republican criticisms, Todd-Malmlov said: “People will get the information when they need to get it.”

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Comments (11)

I'm a MNsure opponent

for philosophical reasons. But I believe that the failure of the system to adequately handle the enrollments and insurance sales only disguises and delays the real problems that Obamacare is going to present to the people who want and need health insurance.

I'm anxious to see reports that compare what people are actually paying for their insurance, which includes not only their monthly premiums, but the annual deductible that they have to pay out-of-pocket.

Remember, the out-of-pocket limits that were part of the original plan have been deferred for at least a year and the speculation is that typical deductibles, before your insurance kicks in, could well be $5,000-$10,000. What poor person is going to be able to afford that? As far as that goes, what middleclass person is going to be able to pay the equivalent cost of buying a used car, every year, as part of their health insurance?

So yeah, it's too early to judge how the system is really working.

Here's our experience

We've paid for our own insurance for the past few years. My numbers below do not reflect any tax credits.

Our new plan is about $30 less per month than our 2013 plan. Obviously we are both a year older, but no other changes in our personal situation. Our previous plan had gone up in both premium and deductibles every year, so I expect it would have gone up again regardless of any ACA-driven changes.

We did not pick the cheapest plan. There were plans with tighter availability of physicians and clinics that were cheaper, but did not fit our needs.

There are differences. The new plan copay is less, but the deductible is more. Of course, there are now no maximums.

Since our prior plan had gone up in premiums and deductible every year, we are seeing a material reduction in healthcare premium. For us, somewhat higher deductibles are preferable to having a lifetime maximum.

So, on balance, a positive change for us.

Too early to report initial facts?

Is it really too early to report the initial facts of MNsure?

Minnesotans are not interested in the costs compared to other states. Minnesotans are interested in knowing their cost increases in $ and in %. For example, are the increases for 20 and 30 year olds really the reported 30-80%? And is the increases for families who previously had high deductible plans really 200-300%?!

Numbers

Cites for your numbers, please.

Increases

I heard the increases were going to be a bazzilion percent for single people and twice that for families. Citation: the voices in my head. Oh, and Michelle Bachmann.

Seriously, though. The insurance is mainly intended for people who previously did not have access to any insurance at all. If you currently have insurance, you like it, and it's affordable, by all means stick with it.

Thanks, Todd

For saying the sensible thing!

MNSure

MNsure has been filling the airways and the press with the huge message that ON LINE is the only way to communicate. The only way to apply, the only way to get a premium subsidy. You must go online.

Interesting now that recent inadvertent disclosure of my personal information has happened they choose to communicate with me via the US mail. In MNsure's invincible stupidity, and impenetrable ignorance they have held up 'on line' as the only way to communicate. They have strongly advised against any mail in applications.

MNsure get your head out of the sand! People like dealing with real life agents! Not every Minnesotan has a computer. Not every Minnesotan can maneuver through the swamp of criteria MNsure has developed! Paper applications continue to be the # 1 way Americans apply for insurance. And agents are the #1 way they apply.

Now that MNsure wants this protection for agents to go correctly they are mailing it via US Mail.

Interesting isn't it!

Ken Longtin

Longtin Agency Inc.
218-281-1970
1-800-467-4708
Cell 1-218-289-1784

Mr. Longtin is right you can still go to an agent

and talk with a real person and they can also enroll you in a MNSure plan. Our premium stayed about the same (and maybe slightly less when I tell him I don't really need maternity benefits at 62) our deductible went down and more things are covered at 100%,

First Year

I'm confused by this part: “Most of the enrollment is going to come in in December for January,” MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov told reporters after the meeting. “In the first year, we likely will be on the low end.”
If the new set up means that we're expanding insurance to lots of people that previously weren't able to get it, shouldn't we expect the first year to have the biggest push?

Psychology

You're fighting human nature there. People wait for the last minute to get things done because they're busy taking care of other projects. Or it's much easier to sit there and do nothing rather than go through all the paperwork until some event (a disease or accident) prompts them to get the ball rolling.

It would be nice if people were a little more proactive, but that's simply not reality.

Not our first rodeo

How many people get 3 months to review the new health coverage options at work each year? How many of us fill out the forms the day we get the plan options?
It's still choosing insurance--complex and unpredictable--and this is way too early for most people to get involved.