The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

November 7, 2013

Zip code factors into health costs

MNsure exchange shows prices highest in southeast Minnesota

MANKATO — If you’re buying health insurance on Minnesota’s new exchange, the lowest monthly cost for a 40-year-old in the Mankato region is about $148. Depending on your income, you might pay less, but that’s about how much an insurance company is charging.

That same 40-year-old will pay a bit less in the metro area, about $115 a month, but a lot more in the Rochester region, about $238 a month. Those estimates are for the lowest level of coverage, a so-called “bronze” plan, which covers about 60 percent of a customer’s health care costs.

Why does it cost more to treat people in Mankato than Minneapolis?

“It’s not new,” said Mankato Sen. Kathy Sheran, a longtime nurse and health care educator. “It’s something I’ve been trying to get a handle on for a long time.”

The exchange, called MNsure, has made those costs more transparent, she said, while the Affordable Care Act limited the factors that can be used to set rates. Starting Jan. 1, insurance companies can only take age, location, tobacco use and family size into account when setting premiums.

These geographical disparities could be caused by differences among the people getting treated (perhaps southern Minnesotans are simply older, for example) and by different medical providers. In other words, either the people who live in the Mankato area are more costly to treat than metro patients, or the medical providers do the same work more expensively, or some combination of the two.

One possibility Sheran mentioned is a lack of competition locally.

"If you have fewer competitors, then there's less motivation to negotiate rates," she said.

The Mayo Clinic's dominance, especially in southeastern Minnesota, means that its generally higher prices are reflected in the area's premiums. That may also be the case, to a much lesser degree, in the Mankato region.

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