MNsure, Minnesota's implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, is in good shape for at least the next two years, thanks to the Legislature, which came through in a big way this year to stabilize a shaky individual insurance market.
With the support of Gov. Mark Dayton, the Legislature spent $542 million to set up a reinsurance pool for the next two years. The idea was to lower rates by helping insurers cover large claims.
The approach worked: Insurers are imposing only slight premium hikes and even some small price drops for 2018 with reinsurance dollars in effect.
MNsure open enrollment starts Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 14.
"We're still here, there's a lot of financial help available, they should take advantage of it," said MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole.
A lot of improvements have been made since the MNsure website (www.mnsure.org) launched five years ago, she said. If you forget your password you can now change it online, and you can easily go in and windowshop, comparing plans and benefits. It can be well-worth the time, O'Toole said.
"MNsure is the only place to access the federal tax credit, it's an instant discount off monthly premiums that goes straight to consumers," she said.
The average savings was $7,000 last year, and two out of three MNsure users were eligible, including many in the middle class. Tax credits are available for single people who make up to $48,000 a year and for families with incomes up to $98,000 a year, she said.
She urged people not to wait until the sign-up date, but to visit the MNsure website now to take care of housekeeping matters.
"These are mundane steps, but they're important," she said. "Either create a new account or log in to your existing account. Make sure you can remember your password, but if you forget you can reset it online. We're really encouraging people to keep their accounts updated, with accurate contact information and household data, like if there's a new baby in the family."
Then windowshop. "Go online, find out the plans in your area and see if you can save money or get financial help," O'Toole said. "The Affordable Care Act tax credits are still there-cost sharing reductions for Minnesota people on the individual market are just fine for 2018."
And in Minnesota, at least, you don't have to go it alone. O'Toole urges people to make an appointment with a MNsure navigator, available across the state. (Mahube-Otwa Community Council has two navigators available for this area).
"It's important to get a little help with this very important decision," she said. "It's free and in person, face-to-face ...They are fully funded, trained and ready to go. Now you can find an assistant in your area and make an appointment for after Nov. 1."
There is a list of navigators on the MNsure website, she said. If you don't get health insurance through work, it will pay to make an appointment with a navigator and find out your options. "We're a one-stop shop," O'Toole said.
In a lot of ways, Minnesota is lucky to have a state-based system for the Affordable Care Act. Most states do not.
"We have a state-based ad campaign (to remind people to sign up during the enrollment period) and paid navigators," she said. The budget for both those things has been gutted by the federal government, which also has an enrollment period that ends a month earlier than Minnesota's.
"We're insulated from some of those decisions because we're a state-based campaign, and we have a lot more flexibility," O'Toole said. "There's a lot of noise and confusion at the federal level right now-it's more important than ever to have this local control."
Over the past five years, MNsure has helped 500,000 Minnesotans get healthcare coverage.
"Ninety-six percent of Minnesotans are covered, the highest in state history and the second-highest percentage in the country," she said.