The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 10, 2013

Forum answers questions regarding Affordable Care Act

By Robb Murray

---- — For people with high-risk health conditions and who find it difficult or impossible to get insurance via tradition means (such as an employer) the state has something called the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association.

With the Affordable Care looming and promising to change health care for millions of Americans, people who use the state's high-risk plan (referred to mostly as MCHA) are probably wondering how the change will affect them.

Turns out, it won't affect them much more than anyone else who plans to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act's new rules.

"Obamacare," as it's colloquially known, is coming. To plan for it, the state of Minnesota has put in place an online insurance shopping portal called MNsure, which is estimated to be used about 1.3 million Minnesotans.

People currently on MCHA will find that their coverage will be phased out, and they'll need to transition to MNsure. To best navigate that transition, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the government agency managing that transition, has been visiting cities around the state getting input from people who have been using MCHA insurance coverage.

One of those stops was at South Central College in North Mankato Monday. The crowd was sparse as Tim Vande Hey of the Department of Commerce fielded a few dozen questions from the roughly 20 people who attended.

Vande Hey's group has also been to Duluth and St. Cloud and they'll be in Rochester today. After that, they'll head to the Twin Cities for the final public input forums.

Audience questions ranged from navigating a transition from a COBRA insurance policy to the cost of the plans compared to the coverage they have now.

Vande Hey said that a few common themes have emerged in the feedback they've been getting since taking public comment about the transition.

First, people are worried about being able to keep the same providers. In general, although all the details won't be publicly available until Oct. 1, that shouldn't be a problem. Second, people are worried about prescription drug benefits and not having a gap in coverage. Third, people are concerned in general about the ability of the state to implement the massive MNsure program.

Overall, Vande Hey said, he expects the transition to go smoothly and, in the end, the state will be better off.

“Right now, about 9 percent of Minnesotans don't have health insurance," he said. "We expect that number to significantly decrease as a result of what we're doing.”

Department of Commerce Communications Director Anne O'Connor said that, in addition to site visits, they've done a few video conferences where people from up to 35 counties had the opportunity to ask questions and offer input to the transition process.

O'Connor said they'll take all the comments and formulate a draft transition plan which will then be available for public viewing. After that, any changes that are warranted will be made and then the final plan will be issued by the end of August, well ahead of the Oct. 1 date for MNsure sign-ups.

"People are pretty excited to be able to purchase insurance in the exchange," Vande Hey said of the people he's met with so far. "But just like the general public, they've got a lot of questions about the Affordable Care Act. People come with their questions and then leave feeling fairly good about it."