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Minnesota regulator: Insurance market in dire situation

By Albert Lea Tribune and Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s individual health care market is in “an emergency situation,” the state’s top industry regulator said Friday, noting that it took the approval of massive rate increases to persuade all its remaining insurance companies not to pull out for next year.

After a major insurer’s exit from the market earlier this year, the state scrambled to convince the seven remaining companies to continue offering plans to those residents who aren’t covered by an employer or through a public program, Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said. The state agreed to rate increases that range from an average of 50 percent to as much as 67 percent while also instituting other, extraordinary last-minute measures, said Rothman, who added that changes in state law are still needed to stave off a market collapse.

“We all were faced with the prospect that there would be nothing available. Nothing,” Rothman said while announcing the finalized health care premium increases. “Everyone needs to hear the sirens and the red lights.”

It’s a dramatic reversal for the state, where just three years ago state officials touted the lowest health insurance rates in the nation as the heart of President Barack Obama’s health care law took hold. While only a small portion of Americans purchase health care through a state exchange or directly through insurers — just 5 percent in Minnesota — that market has been fundamentally reshaped by the Affordable Care Act.

“I continually hear from folks in our area that insurance is becoming unaffordable,” said District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea. “The latest rate hikes from MNsure are crushing family budgets and are unsustainable. We have to continue to look for ways to improve this system for all Minnesotans.”

Friday’s rate increases are on top of increases of up to 17 percent and 49 percent in the past two years.

Bennett said over 75 percent of people who buy health insurance on their own do not receive financial assistance from MNsure, undermining MNsure’s claims that tax credits would offset massive rate increases. 

On Friday, Republicans sent a letter to Governor Dayton demanding immediate action on a law signed by him in 2015 requiring the Department of Commerce to seek a federal waiver that would allow Minnesotans to access tax credits off of the MNsure exchange.