The “individual health insurance market” is the place where Minnesotans who are not covered by other private or public plans can individually buy coverage for themselves and their families. Under federal law, the window to buy policies for 2017 closed last week. There was good news and bad news.
The good news is that more than 116,000 Minnesotans purchased their 2017 health care insurance through the MNsure exchange, the most since the exchange began in 2013.
They are among the 96 percent of Minnesotans who now have health insurance. This is our state’s highest insured rate ever. This level of enrollment is one of the great successes of the federal Affordable Care Act — 250,000 Minnesotans now have health coverage who lacked it before.
The bad news is that the total number of Minnesotans who bought any health insurance through this individual market dropped by about 60,000 from the year before. In other words, many people who had health insurance in 2016 elected to forgo it this year.
Why? Many of them could not afford the increased costs of insurance. Some of the lower-priced policies had extremely high deductibles. Others offered very limited choices of health care providers and did not include their existing network of doctors. Some people have been forced to drive long distances to receive treatments from network-approved providers, even when local doctors and clinics are immediately available.
Take, for example, the married couple Tracie Loeffler and John Donaghy, who live and work in St. Paul. Because they cannot purchase health insurance through an employer, Tracie and John buy their coverage on the individual market. This year, they were among some 250,000 Minnesotans in that market who were hit with large premium increases. Like 125,000 others in this group, their combined income exceeds the limit to qualify for federal tax credits, which would reduce their costs.
Now their monthly health insurance premium costs them more than $1,300 per month, which exceeds their mortgage payment. On top of that, Tracie’s and John’s deductible has more than tripled — from $4,000 to more than $13,000.
Fortunately, last month the Legislature provided one year of 25 percent premium reductions for Minnesotans like John and Tracie who were being clobbered by cost increases in the individual market and did not qualify for the federal subsidies.
But that is a one-year fix. And it is clear that they and the other 250,000 Minnesotans in the individual market need more choices of high-quality health plans, ones that compete with lower-cost premiums, smaller deductibles and better coverage by providers in their areas.
In 1992, MinnesotaCare was established by Republican Gov. Arne Carlson and a bipartisan group of legislators. It is a subsidized health insurance plan that lower-income Minnesotans can purchase for themselves and their families. Today, MinnesotaCare provides some 100,000 Minnesotans with their health coverage at more affordable prices.
We believe that the Legislature should build upon the 25 years of bipartisan success under MinnesotaCare and allow all Minnesotans to buy into MinnesotaCare for themselves and their families. This “MinnesotaCare Buy-In” plan would provide many people with higher-quality health insurance options at lower costs.
Buyers who have incomes above the present eligibility levels for MinnesotaCare’s subsidies would pay the full cost of their coverage. Thus, once established, this plan could operate at no additional costs to taxpayers.
Many Minnesotans know and trust MinnesotaCare. With less than 3 percent overhead costs, it has proven itself to be a more efficient and accountable option than many commercial health plans.
In addition, the “MinnesotaCare Buy-In” would give many Minnesotans more freedom to choose and keep their own doctors, especially people living in Greater Minnesota, who are often limited to “provider networks” that are far away.
MinnesotaCare has worked efficiently and effectively for many thousands of Minnesotans during the past 25 years. Now we have the opportunity to give all Minnesotans the choice of a “MinnesotaCare Buy-In” plan, with coverage they can afford to use and providers they can choose, at no ongoing cost to taxpayers. That is something Republicans, Democrats and all Minnesotans should be able to agree upon.
Mark Dayton, a Democrat, is governor of Minnesota. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, is a member of the Minnesota House.