Editorial: Enrollment grows with better tax credits

Published 9:39 am Monday, December 26, 2016

While the narrative on the state’s insurance exchange MNsure has been driven by grouping the program with failures of the health insurance market or the Affordable Care Act, a recent near doubling of enrollment this year should make think twice about that narrative.

Some 54,000 people signed up for health insurance through the MNsure exchange by last Thursday’s deadline. That’s twice as many as last year. A report in the Star Tribune ties the change to the 50 to 60 percent price increases for insurance sold on the individual market outside of MNsure. Many of the new buyers went to the MNsure exchange because that is the only place where they are eligible for tax credits.

The average monthly tax credit is nearly $635 per month, about three times as high as in 2016. That’s because the tax credit goes up along with the premium. So as premiums for those policies rose, so too did the tax credit. Some consumers are even reporting their monthly health insurance premium went down after applying the tax credit compared to last year.

Experts report the number of people buying insurance on the individual market outside MNsure so far is down by about 80,000. There is some risk those on the individual market will not buy insurance because of the price increases and will therefore be uninsured. Those individuals who make more than $47,500 per year and a family of four making more than $97,000 per year do not qualify for tax credits.

But right now, MNsure looks like it is operating as designed: provide tax relief when premiums go up. Of course, that is a short term solution. The bigger problem remains the basic economics of high costs of an aging population and an unwillingness of young healthy people to join the insurance pool.

Minnesota legislators of both parties appear ready and willing to address the short-term and long-term problems. Democrats and Republicans have proposed state tax credits for those who buy on the individual market.

We urge them to come up with solutions for premium relief and restructuring costs sooner than later.

— Mankato Free Press, Dec. 21