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LAWMAKER'S VIEW: MNsure makes Minnesota better

You’re going to hear a lot about MNsure in the coming months. At least I hope you do. I believe the creation of Minnesota’s health insurance exchange has made Minnesota an even better place to call home.

Consider where Minnesota was on Sept. 30, 2013. More than 445,000 of our friends and neighbors were uninsured, one emergency room trip away from financial disaster. Thousands were denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Others were thrown off plans once they got sick. People were trapped in bad jobs because they were faced with a choice of going without health care coverage if they left or sticking with the lousy insurance their employer offered. And small businesses lost good employees to larger companies that could offer a better health plan. College graduates looking for work had to go without insurance.

Now look at where we are today. Last week we learned that between Sept. 30, 2013, and May 1, 2014, the number of uninsured Minnesotans fell by 180,500, a reduction of

40.6 percent. We went from 8.2 percent of Minnesotans without health insurance (445,000) to 4.9 percent (about 264,500). Now Minnesota has the lowest rate of uninsured in state history. Despite the problems we had with the rollout last fall, MNsure enrollment exceeded expectations, and the process will work even better during the next enrollment period this fall.

The drastic change in our uninsured rate has many ripple benefits — and not only for the thousands of Minnesotans who now have health care. By drastically reducing the rate of the uninsured, we drastically reduce the amount of uncompensated care in our emergency rooms, the most expensive place to receive health care. Reducing uncompensated care allows hospitals and local taxpayers to save millions. It also helps hold down insurance premiums on Minnesotans who do have health insurance.

And creating our own Minnesota-made exchange gave us the lowest health insurance rates in the nation. And federal tax credits available only through MNsure helped make health coverage even more affordable for thousands of our friends and neighbors. States like Wisconsin that chose to use the federal exchange have seen higher costs for their consumers. A 2013 study showed insurance premiums in the Wisconsin insurance marketplace averaged as much as 99 percent more than in Minnesota.

MNsure also means no more denial for pre-

existing conditions. Children can remain on their parents’ plans until they are 26. Women won’t be punished for their gender with higher premiums.

This progress hasn’t come easily, and a big reason has been Republican obstruction. Republicans in both Washington and St. Paul have been determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act and thwart progress for MNsure. This obstructionism was one of the reasons for the rocky rollout of MNsure.

And while it has been determined in its opposition, the GOP has offered no alternative other than a return to the status quo before the Affordable Care Act. This “plan” would mean people being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, insurance bureaucrats deciding whether patients can see their doctors or get the prescriptions they need, caps on coverage, no coverage for preventative care and being a woman treated as a pre-existing condition.

Consider that versus the progress we’ve made with MNsure: premiums among the lowest in the nation; plans that offer maternity benefits, chemical and mental-health benefits and pediatric-dental and vision benefits; no denial because you have the misfortune of having a pre-

existing condition; out-of-pocket spending caps; no lifetime limits; and preventive care covered at no cost to the patient.

And, of course, the lowest uninsured rate in our state’s history and the

second-lowest in the nation. More people insured means less uncompensated care, and that means lower health care costs for Minnesota’s hospitals, counties, property taxpayers and the rest of us.

Which Minnesota sounds better to you?

Rep. Erik Simonson represents District 7B in the Minnesota House.