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State considers release of health-insurance rates for MNsure

The state Commerce Department is examining ways to provide at least a summary of the rate information before October.

State Rep. Joe Atkins: "I think it’s appropriate and desirable and legal to share the summary or at least a range of rates that will be available on the MNsure exchange."
REUTERS/Brad Bower

Policymakers and state officials are looking at ways to shed some light on the rates consumers will pay on Minnesota’s health-insurance exchange before more than a million Minnesotans are expected to begin enrolling in the complicated new health-reform program.

The state Commerce Department is examining ways to provide at least a summary of the rate information before October, the federally imposed deadline on the state to begin enrolling consumers in MNsure, the backbone of the federal health-care reform law here in Minnesota.

Agency officials maintain that state law is blocking the release of even an overview of the prices until October, when the exchange begins operating. Once the exchange is up and running, users will be able to see specific prices for individual plans and receive all the information necessary to make insurance purchases.

Lawmakers are fighting for consumers to know how much coverage will cost before enrollment begins to allow individuals and small business the opportunity to plan for life under the new program.

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“The sooner that you can get concrete information … out is going to allow people to actually make some decisions – as opposed to generalized information,” said Brian Beutner, chairman of the MNsure board.

Tim Vande Hey, a deputy commissioner at the Commerce Department, addressed the issue at a MNsure board meeting on Wednesday. He said the department is working with the insurance carriers that plan to offer coverage on the exchange to see if they will release the information.

The department is also waiting for a legal opinion on whether it can release a rundown of the rates. Such a ruling could come in two weeks, but officials said that it appears the law won’t allow for the information to be made public.

The law preventing the rates from being released was designed to prevent an individual insurance company from waiting to see the rates its competitors filed before finalizing its own prices. The goal is to discourage companies from artificially undercutting each other.

A number of other states have released a rundown of rates before the October deadline. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that consumers could see significantly reduced costs purchasing coverage on the exchange there. And on Thursday a Reuters story carried by the Times cited a report by the Department of Health and Human Services in which “data from 10 states and the District of Columbia show preliminary 2014 premiums on the lowest-cost mid-range ‘silver’ plans in those marketplaces to be 18 percent lower on average than earlier administration and congressional estimates.”

State Rep. Joe Atkins, one of the chief architects of Minnesota’s health-insurance exchange and an author of the law officials say blocks the rates from becoming public, has said that consumers ought to know how much coverage will cost before the exchange opens.

Atkins sent a letter to Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman in June calling on the department to provide an overview of what Minnesotans accessing the insurance marketplace could expect to pay.

In an interview Wednesday, the DFLer from Inver Grove Heights reiterated that consumers should have an idea of what their plans will cost. A state legislative oversight committee will address the issue at a meeting next week, Atkins said.

“I think it’s appropriate and desirable and legal to share the summary or at least a range of rates that will be available on the MNsure exchange,” he said.

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But Atkins also said that he understands that the Commerce Department might need a little time before providing the information. Atkins said the agency is in the process of reviewing hundreds of product submissions.

He said the information is more likely to come in August.