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Published September 25, 2013, 03:30 PM

ND exchange insurance above national average; Minn. lowest in 3 plans

North Dakota residents will have fewer insurance options and higher bills than the national average in the federally run health insurance exchange, according a federal report released Wednesday.

By: Associated Press , INFORUM

North Dakota residents will have fewer insurance options and higher bills than the national average in the federally run health insurance exchange, according a federal report released Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report provides a look at the rates will be available when enrollment for the marketplaces opens Tuesday under the federal health care act championed by President Barack Obama. The federal government is running the marketplaces in North Dakota and 35 other states.

North Dakota has three insurers — Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, Medica and Sanford — that will be offering coverage through the exchange. The national average is eight. States with more competition typically have lower premiums, the report said.

North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm said the participating insurers have asked the state not to release detailed premium costs until the enrollment opens Oct. 1.

"We reviewed their requests and agreed not to disclose the costs but nothing prevents the companies or the federal government from disclosing," he said.

North Dakotans will have an average of 24 qualified health plans to choose from, compared to the national average of 53, the report said.

Despite the lack of precise details, the report said the average premium for a low-level plan for a family of four in North Dakota with an income of $50,000 will be $111 a month after tax credits. The national average is $95 a month.

The North Dakota family of four would pay $841 monthly before qualifying for tax credits, compared to the national average of $774, the report said.

Premiums for a low-level plan in North Dakota for a 27-year-old individual earning $25,000 would have an average monthly cost of $98, compared to the national average of $93.

Under the new law, participating insurers must offer plans within platinum, gold, silver and bronze classifications, with bronze offering the lowest benefits. The actual costs will vary widely depending on such things as income, age, family size, location and tobacco use.

Low premiums in Minn. under health overhaul

Minnesota boasts the lowest average premiums nationwide on three types of health insurance plans offered under the federal health care overhaul.

The Obama administration released information Wednesday on premiums and plans for 36 states where the federal government is managing the overhaul. Minnesota is not among them, but the U.S. Department of Human services released information comparing weighted average premiums among 47 states and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts, Kentucky and Hawaii didn't set premiums in time to be included in the tally.

Minnesota will offer average monthly premiums of $144 for an individual plan at the least expensive level of coverage, or "bronze," and $192 for two plans in the second least expensive level, or "silver." Many of the roughly 300,000 uninsured Minnesotans expected to buy insurance on MNsure, the state's health plan portal, will qualify for federal tax subsidies to help cover the cost of insurance.

"Talk about a business climate advantage," said Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who extolled Minnesota's rates while speaking to a retirees' council of the AFL-CIO in Maplewood. "The quality of health care and the fact it is most affordable here is a huge unspoken advantage."

Dayton said he hoped Minnesota's success with its premiums would quiet Republican critics of MNsure, which opens for enrollment next week. The new agency has been under scrutiny as Oct. 1 approaches, dealing with a data scrutiny lapse as well as criticism for how it distributed federal grants to groups that will aid in finding and enrolling the uninsured.

Republican legislators, who have fought the creation and implementation of MNsure at every turn, continued to press concerns in a letter Wednesday to Dayton. They said they'll continue to seek information about MNsure operations, including a detailed budget spreadsheet, the most recent enrollment projections and confirmation that MNsure is following data privacy standards.

Their inability to obtain answers to their questions reflects "an ever-growing culture of unresponsiveness and secrecy" at MNsure, the Republicans wrote.

The federal government's tally notes that Minnesota's averages reflect premiums in large metro areas, whereas most of the data reflects statewide averages. Premiums in the Twin Cities under MNsure are in many cases lower than in other parts of the state, reflecting a wider range of insurance options.

Still, Rep. Joe Atkins, the Inver Grove Heights Democrat who co-authored the bill that created MNSure, said the state's success vindicated the decision to run its own exchange rather than letting the federal government manage it, as many U.S. states led by Republicans have done.

"Minnesota's thriving economy has been outpacing our neighboring states and this good news helps us widen the lead," Atkins said.

Average monthly premiums in Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas are all higher: at least $200 and as high as $361 monthly premiums for the bronze and two silver individual plans. Nationwide, bronze plans will feature the lowest premiums but also cover a lower share of health costs. Silver and gold plans have higher premiums but also cover a higher percentage of costs.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.