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State officials request early release of health plan prices

The departments of Health and Commerce requested that insurers reveal prices for their health plans a month earlier than previously required.

Two state departments are asking health plans that will offer coverage through MNsure, Minnesota’s health insurance exchange, to reveal prices for their plans a month earlier than previously required.

The move comes after lawmakers called for the rate disclosure to be pushed up to ensure that consumers have the opportunity to review how much coverage on the exchange will cost before enrollment begins on Oct. 1. They argue that the public should have as much time as possible to consider critical health insurance options.

Current state law prohibits the price of a plan from becoming public until its “effective date,” which was originally Oct. 1 for plans included in MNsure. The state departments of Health and Commerce sent out a joint letter on Friday requesting carriers who have products planned for the exchange to move the effective date up.

“This action — which is in the public interest — will allow the departments to publicly release final health plan information to Minnesotans sooner than the current effective date designated,” according to the bulletin.

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The letter asks that companies who wish to offer coverage on the exchange let consumers access rate information beginning Sept. 6, nearly a full month earlier than the original deadline.

The exchange, the state backbone of the federal health care reform law, is expected to eventually serve more than 1 million Minnesotans. Federal deadlines require it to go online in January 2014.

Rep. Joe Atkins, the chief House author of the exchange legislation, has been pushing for at least a summary of the rates to become public for weeks. He released a statement on Friday praising the Commerce and Health departments for moving forward with the early rate disclosure.

“Knowing how much something costs, whether it’s health insurance or a lawn mower, is critical information for a consumer or a business to make a smart buying decision,” Atkins said. “I also believe releasing the rates publicly will sharpen competition among health insurers and that ought to drive down prices.”

While MNsure coverage rates will get more scrutiny because of the decision, exchange staff is working to limit public disclosure of other exchange information.

April Todd-Malmlov, the exchange’s director, applied to keep details of the exchange’s marketing plan secret from public disclosure until it is underway, according to filings released Wednesday.