Despite challenges, objections, MNsure set to open Oct. 1

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

The state’s new health insurance exchange is expected to begin enrolling Minnesotans into insurance programs as scheduled, despite a recent security breach.

“We are planning to go live on October 1st,” MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov told a legislative committee on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, is alarmed by unfinished training at MNsure, saying the health insurance marketplace isn't ready to start enrollment. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, is alarmed by unfinished training at MNsure, saying the health insurance marketplace isn’t ready to start enrollment. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

But Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, in part citing unfinished training, argued that MNsure – which is expected to assist some 1.3 million Minnesotans in finding health insurance – wasn’t ready for “prime time.” Republicans will continue to demand accountability, she said in a statement.

So will others. Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles told a legislative oversight committee that, in two to three weeks, his office will release information on its investigation into a Sept. 12 incident. A former MNsure employee mistakenly sent an insurance broker an unencrypted email that included a spreadsheet, not password protected, containing private data on 1,587 individual brokers. The federal government, Todd-Malmlov said, has approved the use of federal dollars to cover the cost of credit-monitoring services to affected brokers who want it.

Committee co-chair Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, described the security breach as a big concern. But, he noted, only 28 minutes elapsed from when the email was sent until the discovery of the error.

For the 900,000 Minnesotans on medical assistance or enrolled in MinnesotaCare, the security offered by MNsure is better than that found in counties relying on paperwork, Lourey said.

Chris Buse, the state’s chief information security officer, spoke of using an independent consultant and taking other precautions in designing security for the MNsure computer system.

MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov listens as Chris Buse, the state's chief information security officer, testifies to a MNsure oversight committee on Tuesday, Sept. 24. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov listens as Chris Buse, the state’s chief information security officer, testifies to a MNsure oversight committee on Tuesday, Sept. 24. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Buse described the security as “totally state of the art,” the best model in state government.

“(But) security is never really done,” he said.

MNsure organizers know there is anxiety in the public, Todd-Malmlov said. She noted that MNsure navigators — people who assistance clients in selecting health coverage plan — undergo background checks.

Although some 5,000 brokers and other officials will have access to the MNsure system, access levels are restricted, Todd-Malmlov explained, and visits are logged.

She doesn’t expect a rush of enrollment on Oct. 1. Instead, she expects the initial wave of visitors to include lots of “lookers,” people more interested in inspecting the MNsure system than buying insurance.

Individuals not covered under an employer’s health care plan and small businesses with up to 50 employees can shop MNsure. Larger employers may be able to use MNsure in the future, according to MNsure.

Under the Federal Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare, most Americans will be required to have health insurance.

Starting next year, the penalty for not having coverage will be $95 per adult or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater. By 2016, the cost of going without coverage will be $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater.

Not everyone faces penalties for not buying an insurance plan. People living in poverty, those without coverage for less than three months, American Indians and those with religious objections are exempted.

Citing the findings of a Massachusetts Institute of Technical health economist, the Minnesota Department of Commerce notes that due to federal tax credits, more than half of those in the individual health care market in MNsure should have access to premiums that will be the same or lower than their 2013 premiums. Many MNsure consumers could see their premiums drop by more than 30 percent, the department notes.

Under Obamacare, starting in 2014, insurance companies cannot turn people away because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Individuals can buy health insurance outside of MNsure, but tax credits may not apply, according to MNsure.

A palate of coverage levels is available. Bronze-level plans will cover about 60 percent of services offered; silver, about 70 percent, with gold plans covering about 80 percent of services provided. Platinum plans will cover about 90 percent of the cost of services provide.

A Spartan “catastrophic” health care plan will be available for low-income Minnesotans at low cost.

State officials have hailed the insurance rates found through MNsure as the lowest in the country.

“The costs Minnesotans will pay for their health insurance are markedly lower than in most other states,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement.

Credit is due for the efforts of the public and private sector in controlling rising health care costs, the governor said.

“Those efforts must, and will, continue,” Dayton said.

MNsure insurance coverage begins Jan. 1.

 

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com.

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