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MNsure health exchange readies big rollout, including State Fair presence

Community forums are giving exchange officials a chance to answer the public’s basic questions about the evolving program.

The MNsure marketing campaign will include a major presence at the Minnesota State Fair, plus radio, television, bus and billboard advertising buys, according to exchange officials.
Courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair

Minnesota’s state-based health insurance exchange is supposed to open its doors soon, but health advocacy and community organizations still have plenty of questions about the massive overhaul.

That’s not surprising, considering the tight timeline that state officials are working under to complete the exchange, which must begin enrolling Minnesotans on Oct. 1.

The exchange, called MNsure, will be unveiling a marketing blitz within the next few weeks to begin attracting the roughly 1.3 million Minnesotans who are expected to use it to secure coverage.

The campaign will include a major presence at the Minnesota State Fair, plus radio, television, bus and billboard advertising buys, according to exchange officials.

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By the end of the month, MNsure will announce a list of groups that received $4 million in available outreach grants.

Details of a separate, voluntary MNsure “ambassador” program also will begin rolling  out, and an exchange call center will open on Sept. 3.

Marketplace staff also has been attending events like a forum held Thursday by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in Minneapolis. At the session, representatives from minority and cultural organizations, community health centers, nonprofits and faith groups asked questions about how the exchange would work.

Mario Vargas, outreach manager at MNsure, outlined how the exchange would operate and answered questions.

Stairstep Initiative founder Alfred Babington-Johnson, who has long advocated for overcoming the social determinants of health, offered his views on what would make the marketplace a success.

Babington-Johnson said Minnesotans need to remain engaged to ensure that MNsure doesn’t become “simply another bureaucracy.”

Both agreed that the goal of MNsure — and the federal health care reform law — is to insure more people at less cost. That means targeting uninsured and underinsured populations in Minnesota, Vargas said, which many of the organizations present in the room had experience doing.

“How many people know all about MNsure?” joked Chris Schafer, the event’s moderator from the American Cancer Society. “There’ll be a test later.”

Here is a selection of the questions that Vargas answered:

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Q. How will Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare recipients be notified that they will need to participate in MNsure?

A. Enrollment into public programs like MA and MinnesotaCare is being handled through the state Department of Human Services. They’ve started communicating with counties and community partners about the change.

Q. Will MNsure cover prescriptions on all plans?

A. If carriers want to sell plans through the exchange, they have to provide essential benefits, which include prescription drug coverage. But the details of each plan are unknown.

Q. Will someone with a chronic health condition or an elderly person have to pay a higher premium?

A. No.

Q. Is MNsure going to be at the State Fair?

A. “We are planning a big, big, big party at the State Fair, so you’ll see us there,” Vargas said.

Q. Can you keep your current doctor after you sign up for coverage through MNsure?

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A. Yes, MNsure is currently working with clinical systems and hospital networks to ensure folks keep their doctors and don’t lose what they currently have.

Q. Do you have a specific outreach plan for people who speak limited English?

A. One of the critical ways is through consumer assisters and the outreach grant programs, which are about to be announced on Aug. 23 “to reach the hardest populations that need the information to get enrolled.”

Q. Exchange opponents are running ad campaigns discouraging people from signing up. Are there a certain number of people you have to enroll to remain viable?

A. The threshold is the 1.3 million Minnesotans that we need to enroll by 2016.

Q. What is the status of MinnesotaCare as part of the state’s health reform efforts?

A. MinnesotaCare stays intact.

Q. Is MNsure going to collaborate with companies to lower the price?

A. MNsure doesn’t partner with insurance companies. Carriers will provide coverage through the marketplace, and the federal government will provide subsidies for individuals, families and small employers.

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Q. Do the carriers that are included in the exchange have to meet certain guidelines?

A. Yes. A few examples: They have to offer essential health benefits, they can’t deny coverage and the pricing for insurance has to be the same inside and outside the marketplace.

Q. What about immigrants who just came here and don’t have insurance?

A. Documented immigrants will be able to participate in the exchange after living in Minnesota for six months.

Q. If MNsure is concerned with lowering cost of health care, why is there an additional fee to run the exchange?

A. It’s a very small administrative fee of 1.5 percent that they’re carrying for self-sustainability reasons.