MNsure ready for open enrollment to begin

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WILLMAR, Minn. — Amid the turmoil surrounding the future of the Affordable Care Act and the individual insurance market, MNsure has a clear message: We're here and ready for open enrollment to start Nov. 1.

"Coverage is available. Help is available all across the state," said Allison O'Toole, MNsure chief executive.

With less than two weeks to go before enrollment season begins, the MNsure exchange is working to prepare the public and help make the process go smoothly.

"Window shopping" was launched this week, a period during which consumers in the individual health insurance market can go on the MNsure website at www.mnsure.org, see their coverage options and determine whether they qualify for a tax subsidy.

Doing the homework is one step people can take now before having to make coverage decisions, O'Toole said.

"I think it's really important for consumers to do that so they're ready when open enrollment begins," she said.

Another important step they can take now is to make sure their account is up to date and that they have their password, she said, noting that a significant volume of calls to the MNsure call center are from enrollees who have forgotten their password.

"We're trying to get ahead of that this year," she said.

Finally, consider making an appointment with a MNsure assister, O'Toole said.

Trained brokers and navigators are stationed across the state to help people figure out coverage options, assist them with enrollment, answer questions and troubleshoot technical issues. Connecting with them through the directory on the MNsure website can help guide consumers through what is often a complicated decision, O'Toole said.

"It's important to have someone who's an expert," she said.

The individual insurance market covers only about 5 percent of Minnesotans, but this segment of the market adds up to thousands of households. The MNsure exchange saw a record 117,654 Minnesotans sign up for coverage during the enrollment season last year. Three out of five were eligible for tax credits, with an average yearly tax credit of $7,457.

According to figures provided by MNsure, about 7,000 people living in Big Stone, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Lyon, McLeod, Meeker, Renville, Sibley, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties enrolled through the exchange last year. Almost three-fourths received tax credits. Their average yearly tax credit of $9,696.72 also was higher than the state average.

The turmoil surrounding the Affordable Care Act has stoked anxiety over whether consumers will still be able to obtain coverage for next year.

O'Toole sought to reassure the public this week.

Minnesota operates its own health insurance exchange for the individual market, she said. "We have local control over this."

Although the MNsure enrollment period has been condensed to Nov. 1 to Jan. 14, it's still a month longer than the federal open enrollment period, she said. A full ad campaign is planned, along with outreach and enrollment assistance.

A reinsurance program signed into state law this year has helped keep 2018 rates mostly flat and tax credits similar to this year, O'Toole said.

Subsidies to insurance carriers were eliminated by a White House executive order last week, but individual consumers will continue to receive tax credits for 2018. MNsure anticipates that two-thirds of enrollees will qualify for tax credits next year, averaging about $7,000 a year.