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Capitol Chatter: MN officials urge health insurance seekers to shop around

ST. PAUL - State officials recommend about 300,000 people go shopping.

Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman announces Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, that health insurance rates for individual policyholders will rise 14 percent to 49 percent. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)
Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman announces Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, that health insurance rates for individual policyholders will rise 14 percent to 49 percent. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL – State officials recommend about 300,000 people go shopping.

In announcing health insurance premium increases ranging from 14 to 49 percent, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and interim MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole repeatedly said that those 300,000 people who buy health insurance themselves could save money by comparing policies on MNsure ( www.mnsure.org ).

Nearly 6 percent of Minnesotans buy insurance on the open marketplace, either through the state-operated MNsure web-based program or by dealing with insurers.

O'Toole said many Minnesotans who use her organization's website, and human helpers who are available around the state, could save money and maybe even pay less next year than this year.

MNsure gave examples of how their site could lower payments, including for a 60-year-old Granite Falls man. This year, the man received $360 a month in subsidies, which will increase next year to $514 a month. Depending on what plan he picks, he could pay far less than the going rate, or maybe pay nothing at all.

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A complicated formula is used to figure subsidies, but MNsure says a single person earning less than $47,000 annually likely is eligible. A family of four's income could reach $97,000.

Premiums are based on a person's age, family size and geographic area. Health care expenses vary across the state and insurance companies usually only serve certain areas.

O'Toole said that when 2016 enrollment begins on Nov. 1, MNsure's website will feature a tool Minnesotans can use to compare insurance policies and costs. In some cases, people may find better deals if they switch away from companies they use this year, prompting state officials to urge them to shop around.

For Minnesotans who buy their own insurance, the policies generally are the same on MNsure and directly through insurance companies. However, MNsure next year will not provide platinum plans, the most expensive ones with the most extensive coverage; they will be available through the companies.

Everyone in the state has a choice of at least six insurance companies, each of which offers multiple plans. That is a big difference from a couple of years ago when there was little choice in some areas, such as the southeast with just one company.

Large employers provide insurance for about half of Minnesotans, with small employers providing it to 5.4 percent. State and federal programs serve about a third of Minnesotans.

Disabilities plan OK'd

A federal judge has made one ruling about a state program and promises to rule on another later this month.

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Judge Donovan Frank has been in the news about his upcoming order on what the state must do to make its sex offender treatment program constitutional (an order the state promises to appeal), but he just approved a new Minnesota plan to allow people with disabilities to live, learn and work in a setting of their choosing.

Gov. Mark Dayton promised to "continue to work hard to improve life opportunities for Minnesotans with disabilities."

The key to what is known as the Olmstead Plan is a philosophy that people with disabilities should be allowed to make choices about their lives. The plan allows for more housing, employment and education options integrated with the rest of the community.

"Minnesota's Olmstead Plan is focused on providing individuals with disabilities more opportunities to experience lives of inclusion and integration in their communities - just like people without disabilities," said Minnesota Housing Commissioner Mary Tingerthal.

'Your Vote Matters'

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon launched a project, Your Vote Matters, to get students now in high school prepared to vote in the next couple of years.

Your Vote Matters includes a new three-lesson unit for high schoolers that teaches students about voting rights, the importance of voting and how to get ready to vote.

"One of my top priorities as secretary of state is to increase civic participation among young people in Minnesota, and there is no better place than the classroom to instill those good habits," Simon said. "I'm committed to helping educators prepare young Minnesotans to vote anyway I can and look forward to working with both schools and students throughout the state to achieve that goal."

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Return attempts

It appears Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders are finding success in asking defeated state House candidates to campaign in next year's election.

The 2016 candidates are saying things like this from former Rep. Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake: "After talking it over with my family and hearing from concerned residents across the district, I know this is something our community needs-someone who is going to get work done. The two years I served in the Legislature saw major investments in our rural communities, and it came at a crucial time. We need a Legislature that is going to continue that work, and it's not happening with our current representation."

Plenty of Democrats who used to serve in the House are available for 2016 runs because Republicans regained House control in last year's election at their expense.

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