Minnesota’s health plans are engaged in something akin to a game of chicken.
On the last Friday in July, the commissioners of the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Commerce issued a request that the plans change the effective date to September 6 for products to be sold through MNsure, the state-run insurance marketplace. That would enable the state to disclose details about insurance plans – in particular, how much they’ll cost – before the marketplace opens for business on October 1.
There’s been widespread grumbling in recent weeks about the lack of information available regarding the products that will be sold through the exchange. Insurance brokers, consumer advocates and legislators have united in bemoaning the lack of details. They fear that they’ll essentially be operating in the dark when the online marketplace goes live. But the commerce department has indicated that state law prevents it from disclosing any details until the products are up for sale on the MNsure marketplace.
That led to Friday’s letter seeking to change the effective date for Mnsure to September 6. “This action — which is in the public interest — will allow the Departments to publicly release final health plan information to Minnesotans sooner than the current effective date designated, October 1, 2013,” wrote Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger. “With that information, Minnesota consumers will have the time and opportunity to fully understand their options and make informed decisions on health insurance plans for themselves, their families and businesses.”
Plans want unified front
But that solution, of course, requires the cooperation of the nine health plans that have submitted products to be sold on the exchange. Those plans have put forward more than 400 products to be sold through MNsure. While the identity of those plans has not been released, the largest players are easily identified.
Capitol Report contacted five of the largest players to gauge their response to the request from the commerce and health departments. Most expressed a general willingness to comply, but with a caveat: All the plans must be on board with the September 6 effective date.
“We support all participating health plans releasing their rate information on September 6 as long as there is consistency to the release – that everyone’s rates have been reviewed and approved and networked,” said Ghita Worcester, UCare’s senior vice president of public affairs and marketing, in a statement. “An early release could benefit consumers and help them prepare for new options on MNsure starting October 1.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota offered a similar response. “We think this request from the Department of Commerce makes a lot of sense,” a statement from the company said. “Health reform is bringing about a lot of change, and the more time Minnesotans have to understand their options, the more informed choices they can make.”
But Blue Cross Blue Shield is seeking a slightly different reassurance from the state before it agrees to comply: that any plan details released be treated as final and not subject to change. “Blue Cross is in discussions with the Department of Commerce on this very issue,” the company said. “We want to make sure that any health plan options announced in September are the same ones consumers will see offered in October.”
The other two major players in the health insurance marketplace, Medica and HealthPartners, also expressed a willingness to comply – albeit with their own caveats.
“In concept, we support the request from Commerce and have worked with them to determine how to make this happen,” Medica said in a statement. “We still need to dig into the details before making a final determination on how we will respond.”
“We’re in conversations with the Department of Commerce regarding the voluntary release of rate and product information ahead of October 1,” HealthPartners noted in its own statement. “We believe that the early release should occur after the Department of Commerce has completed approval of all of the products that will be available for 2014.”
Another firm that’s expected to offer insurance products through the MNsure marketplace, Preferred One, didn’t return calls from Capitol Report seeking comment.
Atkins confident details will be disclosed
The commerce and health departments asked that, by August 9, the health plans request a change in the effective date for products that have been submitted to be sold through MNsure. For now, the agencies are simply waiting to see whether the plans comply.
That leaves some uncertainty about whether the plan to publicize details ahead of the October 1 rollout will come to fruition. Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, the lead sponsor of exchange legislation in the House, has been among the most vocal advocates of disclosure. Atkins said the fact that more than 400 different insurance plans have been submitted is an indication that there will be healthy competition for consumers. He is confident that the plans will ultimately agree to the September 6 effectiveness date and that the public will be able to weigh their choices to prior to MNsure’s grand opening.
“I thought it was a great decision,” he said, of the plan put forth by the commerce and health departments. “From a small business owner’s perspective, it’s just good to know what the price is of something you’re buying. … The sooner they get information the better off they are.”