Local health insurance rates higher than much of state

Published 5:14 pm Saturday, November 2, 2013

A month into Minnesota’s new online health insurance marketplace, many questions remain about coverage in Freeborn County.

While state officials announced new coverage options this week in nearby counties of Olmsted and Dodge, the rates on the marketplace — known as MNsure — are still higher in the southeastern region than the rest of the state.

“We are concerned there’s a sizable population for who the Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable,” said Mike Petersen, co-owner of Security Insurance in Albert Lea. “We feel glad for people who are helped by it, but we feel bad for those who are outside of the subsidies.”

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Mike and Andy Petersen, another co-owner of the company, estimated they have hundreds of clients who will experience rate increases of more than 50 percent through either their group or individual plans in 2014. Many of these people barely fall outside of the subsidies and cannot afford the increase, Mike Petersen said.

“In our opinion, these people need an explanation as to why this is different than what was promised,” he said.


Why the problems?

Freeborn County is classified as part of the southeastern region under the exchange. Other counties in the region are Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Steele, Wabasha and Winona.

The counties have been a focus of controversy since MNsure launched last month because of a lack of choices for consumers and higher rates.

According to the website, a 51-year-old non-smoking man in Albert Lea would pay between $386 and $590 a month without subsidies, while the same man would pay between $176 and $427 a month if he were living in Minneapolis.

For a family of four, the prices are between $826 and $1,270 in Albert Lea without subsidies, while in Minneapolis the cost would be between $371 and $900.

“There’s such a perception out there that this was going to be such a blessing for everybody,” Mike Petersen said. “While it is for some, for other situations, it’s much worse.”

He estimated that the costs are higher because the law requires more items be covered than in the past.

Albert Lea is also close to the Mayo Clinic, which provides care for many complex illnesses.

In addition to rates, there is also a disparity in the number of plans being offered around the state.

Plans are offered on Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Catastrophic levels.

In Albert Lea there are only up to five options under any given level, while in Hennepin County there are as many as 24 per level.

Up until this week, there had only been one choice offered for parts of Olmsted County.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce and the Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday announced seven new insurance options for residents in Olmsted and Dodge counties in zip codes where insurance company Medica had previously exempted coverage.

District 27A Rep. Shannon Savick, DFL-Wells, said though she thinks the additional plans are a move in the right direction in the southeastern region, there is still a long way to go toward offering the best plans.

“Offering more plans is the first step, but we need to continue to work with providers and consumers to bring more affordable options to the MNsure exchange,” Savick said. “For Minnesota as a whole, MNsure has been very positive in bringing quality health insurance options to the market. In our area, we still have a lot of work to do.”

Savick said Albert Lea’s situation is unique because just to the west in Wells there are more affordable options.

“For people in the Albert Lea area, we need to do more to encourage providers to offer some plans that are more in line with what the rest of the state is paying,” she said.

She noted she has been working with the departments of health and commerce to find providers that are willing to offer new plans.

Anne O’Connor with the Minnesota Department of Commerce said the Affordable Care Act and MNsure in Minnesota has helped shed light on variations that have always existed in rates and health costs.

“Perhaps consumers weren’t aware that those variations existed, but they did and now we can focus our efforts on finding ways to reduce those costs so we can create more affordable options in this region,” O’Connor said.