State reports lower insurance rates
Minnesotans will see lower premiums on the individual health insurance market in 2019, the state's Commerce Department announced on Tuesday. Across the state, rates will decrease, on average, between 7.4 and 27.7 percent, the department reported....
Minnesotans will see lower premiums on the individual health insurance market in 2019, the state's Commerce Department announced on Tuesday.
Across the state, rates will decrease, on average, between 7.4 and 27.7 percent, the department reported. It's the second straight year the individual rates generally declined - although for 2018, Blue Plus actually showed a slight increase in the individual rate. That's the company with the steepest declines for 2019.
Actual rates vary widely - in St. Louis County, for example, three companies are offering a combined total of 24 plans, and the numbers also vary depending on age and family status. As one example, a 40-year-old individual purchasing the second-lowest-priced silver plan in St. Louis County would pay $331.97 per month, according to commerce department data. That's $93.73 less than in 2018 for the same person with the same plan - a 22 percent decrease.
The silver plan is a mid-range plan that is expected to cover between 66 and 72 percent of an individual's health costs.
The two years of mostly lower rates after steep increases in previous years suggests a gamble the state took a couple of years ago paid off, said Megan Halena, program director of Generations Health Care Initiatives in Duluth.
"Companies have made good on lowering rates as a result of getting reinsurance," she said. "There was no guarantee that that was going to happen."
The Republican-majority Minnesota Legislature passed a $542 million reinsurance bill in 2017, and Gov. Mark Dayton allowed it to become law, although he didn't sign the bill. The money covers 80 percent of medical bills between $50,000 and $250,000. The theory was that if insurers had some protection from major medical bills, they'd be willing to lower their rates. But the plan was met with skepticism, Halena said, because it didn't compell insurers to lower rates.
"Actually the companies have kind of followed suit with the plan to keep costs down," she said.
Without the reinsurance plan, insurers said rates would be up 20 percent this year, Halena related.
In a news release, state Republican leaders celebrated the decreases.
"Today's final rate release shows that Minnesota Republicans have the right approach to making health insurance more affordable for families in our state," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
But Buddy Robinson demurred.
Robinson, who is staff director for Minnesota Citizens Federation Northeast and co-coordinator of the Greater Minnesota Health Care Coalition, noted that funding for reinsurance only runs through 2019.
"The Legislature cannot afford to repeat that kind of bailout for the insurance industry," Robinson wrote in an email. "The need for bailouts for 2018-19 shows how unsustainable the insurance market is on its own."
Spending the money for reinsurance requires slashing money from other needed programs, Robinson wrote.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party caucus in the Minnesota House was equally unimpressed, with House minority leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, calling reinsurance "disaster relief."
"Rates have gone up for some and decreased for others, but health insurance is still too expensive for too many Minnesotans," Hortman said in a news release from the caucus.
Only about 3 percent of Minnesotans purchase insurance on the individual market, according to the commerce department. Another 5.5 percent are insured through the small-group market, which serves employers with fewer than 50 full-time workers. Rate changes in that category for 2019 range from a 2.4 percent decrease to an 11.93 percent increase.
Open enrollment begins Nov. 1 and continues for 10 weeks in Minnesota. Halena said Minnesota continues to have a full complement of navigators, who are trained to help people seeking health insurance through the process. Elsewhere, navigator programs have been slashed. The budget for navigators in Minnesota this year is $4 million, she said. For the entire remainder of the country, it's $10 million.