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Minnesota’s top health insurance ranking didn’t include all factors

REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang
With the federal approval, MNsure is planning to begin serving consumers on Oct. 1, but the state must pass a final in-house security check the day before it goes live.

The federal analysis that proclaimed Minnesota’s health insurance premiums the lowest in the nation didn’t take into account factors that could have upped the cost.

National data released Wednesday found other states much higher than the average $144 monthly price for the cheapest low-tier plan on the MNsure health exchange. Similar coverage in Wyoming, for example, listed for $425.

At Wednesday’s governing board meeting, Minnesota exchange officials cheered the good news from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which capped weeks of negative publicity for the fledgling exchange.

But the federal data, which were touted as an “apples-to-apples” comparison nationwide, didn’t fully take into account several factors that would have provided a fuller picture. There are also some uncertain factors that could affect the price of Minnesota coverage in the future.

Those factors include:

  • When MNsure released rate data in early September, it divided the state into nine areas, with varying premiums. The federal analysis released Wednesday only looked at the Twin Cities area, which has lower premiums. If the Rochester area, which in some cases had double the premium costs of the metro, had been included, the average costs would be higher. The federal government looked at statewide data for most of the other comparisons.
  • The continuation of Minnesota’s high-risk pool could have made coverage prices lower, Exchange Director April Todd-Malmlov said. The program’s uncertain future could have an effect on plan prices later on.
  • People on MinnesotaCare, a public health program for the working poor, weren’t included in the exchange population this year. If they had been, the premiums would likely be more expensive because the state knows that those populations tend to be sicker. Most also will likely join the exchange once the updated version of MinnesotaCare is implemented on the exchange.

 The Pioneer Press did a more in-depth look at some of the comparisons here.

Coverage on the exchange, which is supposed to serve 1.3 million Minnesotans by 2016 as a marketplace to shop for and compare health insurance, lists plans by “metal” level: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

In the Rochester area, an average monthly premium for a “gold” plan for a 60-year-old who earns more than $45,000 would be $512; the comparable metro coverage would cost $382.

Todd-Malmlov said even with Rochester’s higher prices, the dial wouldn’t have moved much if the feds had done a statewide comparison, since it was just one of nine zones.

“When you look at the rates across Minnesota, there are some variations, but they are also very tight,” she said. “I don’t really think that has a whole lot of impact.”

Todd-Malmlov credited Minnesota’s health care innovation and competition among carriers spurred by enhanced transparency for bringing the low rates.

“They put their best foot forward here,” she said of the carrier’s rates, which were negotiated with the state Commerce Department. “They want this business, so that’s nice to see.”

Todd-Malmlov was also happy to tell the board that MNsure passed two key tests from the IRS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to connect to the federal government’s data hub, which will provide integral information for running the exchange.

She said the latest IRS review, which looked at data security, was “very extensive.” Other state officials have said MNsure’s IT security systems will be the toughest in state government.

Over the past few weeks, MNsure has faced criticisms for accidentally revealing private information on insurance brokers, inadequately addressing communities of color in grant proposals and dealing with questions about the exchange meeting startup deadlines.

With the federal approval, MNsure is planning to begin serving consumers on Oct. 1, but the state must pass a final in-house security check the day before it goes live, Todd-Malmlov said. The final federal hub will become operational on Oct. 1, she said, so Minnesota will have to access it in real time.

“It’s always fun being dependent on others,” MNsure Board Chairman Brian Beutner said with a laugh.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by T J Simplot on 09/26/2013 - 12:36 pm.

    How much are rates going up?

    I find it interesting that MNsure did all this research to compare us to other states but in the end what does that do except give us warm fuzzies. The big question is how much are rates going to go up in MN? Granted there are underwriting changes and new benefits coming in 2014 but they could have at least made an attempt to try to compare current to next year because that is helpful information to Minnesotans. It’s certainly more helpful than knowing how our rates compare to other states/cities.

  2. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 09/26/2013 - 02:08 pm.

    I’m glad that they’re waiting until it’s right.

    Bad information is misleading information

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/26/2013 - 03:47 pm.

    I thought the article said that the Feds did the comparative analysis, not MNsure. The latter has been so ferociously attacked by state Republicans for three years that, of course, those who run it are careful to dot all their “i’s” and know how it’s going.

    Also, the article seems to have been given a misleading title: it makes one expect some highly-negative information about the new ACA in Minnesota, but instead, one sees that the state is doing fairly well (as are its health insurers in proferring their plans).

    Also, it seems only fair to keep in mind that it’s not simply what the new rates are for the several levels of coverage versus health plans’ former rates. We need to consider also how many people who couldn’t get any kind of coverage will now be able to get health insurance. Fairly. That’s the major point of ACA.

  4. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 09/26/2013 - 04:27 pm.

    Insurance ratres

    Whether it’s $144 or $444, thosemonthly rates aren’t even remotely closes to covering the costs of medical care these days. Granted, assuming that everybody over age 25 is paying those rates, but only 10% of them are receiving medical services that month (S.W.A.G.) there might be enough money.

    I’m fortunate in that I qualify for Veterans Administration hospital care. A document they gave me last February lists some hospitalization numbers on a per day basis: Surgery $4,533, General Medicine $2,384, Rehabilitation $2122

    I’d like to see an actuarial analysis of all these plans.

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