Are MNsure’s Rates Cause To Rejoice?

MNsure officials touted the exchange's average rates as lower than others that have been announced, but they vary greatly throughout Minnesota, and some employers are waiting for more information.

Many small employers are awaiting additional information about their options for small-group plans while large employers are expecting an influx in questions about the MNsure exchange from their employees, even as state officials are touting the release of MNsure rates.

MNsure officials quickly trumpeted the exchange’s average rates as the lowest in the nation. “MNsure is pleased to offer Minnesotans a wide array of plans with some of the lowest premiums in the country,” Brian Beutner, chair of the organization’s board of directors, said in a statement. “For many Minnesotans, financial help through MNsure will mean that they will be able to afford health care coverage for the first time.”

But the rates vary greatly based on age and population. For example, a 25-year-old non-smoker in the Twin Cities could pay $91 a month for a “bronze” plan, which must cover 60 percent of medical costs and is the cheapest option on the exchange. A 60-year-old Twin Citian wanting a “platinum” plan, which covers 90 percent of medical costs, can expect on average to pay about $408 a month.

Geographic variations in premiums are based on the amount of competition in different regions, Minnesota’s Commerce Department commissioner told the Pioneer Press. For example, while five health insurance companies will compete for business in the individual market in the Twin Cities, only two companies will do so in the Rochester area—so rates for certain plans may be higher in Rochester.

To view the average MNsure rates, as broken down by age and region, click here. To view the actual plans that have been approved for sale through MNsure, click here.

Should the release of those prices significantly impact employers’ strategizing?

“We really don’t have a full picture yet,” said Julie Bunde of HealthPartners, adding that rates for individual and small-employer plans that will be offered outside the exchange aren’t public yet “so we don’t have full analysis of the market at this time.”

Bunde said HealthPartners is working with regulators for final approval on plans that will be offered outside the exchange, and they are expected to be made public ahead of MNsure’s October 1 open enrollment period.

Greg Thurston, director of benefits at Edina-based Doherty Employer Services, said most small employers are likely waiting to see the official approved rates that will be offered outside the exchange before determining whether to obtain a plan through MNsure.

But because rates are being revealed amid what for many companies is an open enrollment period, there’s a limited time frame in which they can pick between their strategies for maintaining costs. “You’ll probably see a lot of employers offering similar plans to what they’ve offered in the past, because it’s kind of late to be making a lot of changes to their offerings,” Bunde said. Small businesses that may be eligible for a credit through MNsure will be comparing alternatives with brokers and consultants to determine how those credits compare tax deductions they may currently receive, she added.

(For more information about MNsure and employers’ reactions, click here.)