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MNsure says 4.5 percent average increase in 2015

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ST. PAUL — The number of MNsure health-plan options in southeast Minnesota will increase fivefold in 2015, from six options to more than 30.

Still, it remains the region of the state with the fewest plans offered, at 32, with just Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medica of Wisconsin offering plans.

One of the plan options for the region went down in cost by 13.3 percent, and the increased choices will give more opportunities to shoppers, Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said.

"The number of choices allows families to choose what meets their needs, and that's a good thing," she said.

The health-insurance plans offered in southeastern Minnesota include several Medica options that cover Mayo Clinic treatment.

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"We’ve actively worked with insurers to provide consumers with more choice and we’re working toward reducing the cost of care," Mayo Clinic spokesman Bryan Anderson said this morning in a written statement. "During the past year we’ve worked with multiple insurers to help develop products that offer access to Mayo Clinic in a more affordable way."

"I am happy that we have attracted insurers to the market and are providing greater choice to Minnesotans throughout the state," said MNsure board Chairman Brian Beutner. "Some individuals may see lower rates and many more will benefit from state and federal financial help, so I encourage consumers to shop on MNsure to find what is best for them."

The average rate for policies sold on Minnesota's health insurance exchange will go up 4.5 percent in 2015 but remain the lowest in the nation, state officials said Wednesday.

Liebling said the average increase was relatively low, and she said preliminary figures for southeast Minnesota show lower-than-average increases as well.

"It would be unrealistic for anyone to think that health insurance doesn't increase. ... It always has," Liebling said.

The four holdover companies — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, HealthPartners, Medica and U-Care — submitted average rates that ranged from a 10 percent decrease to a 17 percent increase. A fifth company will join the exchange in 2015, Blue Cross affiliate Blue Plus.

The lowest-cost and largest provider in the exchange's first year, PreferredOne, said last month it was dropping out because it couldn't sustain its pricing.

"We expect no other state will release rates lower than Minnesota," Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said. "We achieved the lowest rates even though last year's lowest-cost company decided to sit out this year."

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The rate announcement was a politically charged event. Republicans earlier this year accused Gov. Mark Dayton of trying to delay it until after the November election. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader David Hann argued the average was misleading, and many consumers will pay much more, especially with PreferredOne's departure.

At a news conference, he passed around a price chart for a 25-year-old in the metro area that showed monthly premiums at four different coverage levels rising from 18 percent to 37 percent.

"I think the 4.5 percent rate increase is completely bogus," Hann said.

Dayton said he was pleased by the number and noted it doesn't factor in subsidies that some people can get. He said most people will see a "very modest" increase, and many will pay less.

"I realize we're 34 days before an election, but it is permissible to actually recognize and even applaud good news," Dayton said.

A check of some individual rates in the state's nine zones found a mix of rates. For a 40-year-old in southern Minnesota, the bronze plan would rise 36 percent; the silver plan would go up 17 percent; the gold plan would rise 15.5 percent; and the platinum plan would go up 23 percent.

But for a 25-year-old in southeast Minnesota, the monthly rate would rise 5.4 percent on the bronze plan; fall 4.3 percent on the silver plan; fall 0.1 percent on the gold plan; and rise 5.5 percent on the platinum plan.

Those comparisons don't include subsidies. MNsure chief executive Scott Leitz encouraged consumers to shop early for policies, and he said more people will qualify for tax credits in 2015 than this past year.

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Rep. Liebling said people should check out the new rates even if they're on a plan now, keeping in mind subsidies from the federal government can be applied to reduce expenses.

"The final cost in many cases will be lower (with tax credits)," Liebling said. "Nobody should be afraid to look. There's no harm in looking."

State officials said consumers will have more choices and highlighted southeast Minnesota, with more than 30 products in 2015 compared to fewer than 10 this year. The number of individual plans statewide will increase to 84, up from 78.

Leitz and Dayton said the state is better prepared for the next open enrollment period that begins Nov. 15. Leitz said the MNsure website has added capacity to load more quickly, and the state will have some 300 call-center representatives, compared to 30 when the exchange launched.

State officials declined to say how much each of the holdover companies were raising or lowering rates on average. Commerce spokeswoman Anne O'Connor said later they agreed not to as a condition of releasing broad rate information early.

More than 327,000 people have signed up for policies via MNsure, and exchange officials have said the state's rate of uninsured people has dropped more than 40 percent.

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