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Final individual insurance policy answers coming Monday for Minnesotans

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton listens recently to a question about health insurance. He says he is upset with a September 2017 federal decision to cut funding for MinnesotaCare. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—The country's health insurance situation is more confusing than ever, but within days at least one segment of Minnesota's population will know more about their 2018 coverage.

The Minnesota Commerce Department on Monday, Oct. 2, will announce premium prices and other details for 2018 individual health insurance policies. Those are the policies bought by people not covered by employer or government policies.

Commerce Department officials say that once the figures are announced, they cannot change.

That is good news for individual policy purchasers, who still will have few choices and in many cases high costs.

"These poor people have had enough confusion," said spokeswoman Eileen Smith of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans.

After the announcement, people with policies must receive letters from current insurers by Nov. 1 with details about what will be available next year. Before that, however, the state-run MNsure website will give potential policy purchasers a chance to compare offerings.

Preliminary information shows many individual insurance policy premiums could be about the same, or maybe even lower, next year. That is due in large part to a new state law that establishes a "reinsurance" program that uses state and federal funds to help pay for some of the more-expensive health care claims.

While big increases are not expected, rates to be formally announced Monday still are expected to be near the high levels Minnesotans are struggling to pay this year.

State officials were notified in recent days that the federal government approved the reinsurance plan and will contribute $338 million. At the same time, federal officials withdrew slightly more than that amount that state leaders expected from Washington to help fund MinnesotaCare, a subsidized health insurance program for the working poor.

"We are still sorting through this," Gov. Mark Dayton said this week.

All 10 members of the Minnesota congressional delegation have demanded an explanation of why Minnesota is losing the MinnCare money, which Dayton said federal officials had promised until recently.

Rep. Jason Lewis, a Republican who represents the south Twin Cities and areas south of that, said: "I will continue to work so that Minnesota has as many options as possible under this demonstrably failed experiment," a reference to the federal Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Dayton said he felt betrayed by federal officials after months of negotiating the reinsurance plan.

"I have expressed my strong opposition to the federal government's proposed cuts to MinnesotaCare, upon which 100,000 Minnesotans depend for quality, affordable health coverage," Dayton said. "That issue remains unresolved with our federal partners, and my administration will continue our fight to preserve full federal funding for this program."

Despite the dispute, Dayton said the state has enough reserve funds to cover MinnCare's shortfalls through 2018.

The governor also was upset with Minnesota health insurers, who asked the Commerce Department to delay Monday's release of final rates.

"It is extremely irresponsible for health insurers to disrupt MNsure's upcoming open enrollment period, which many Minnesotans will use to buy health insurance coverage for themselves and their families," Dayton said of the 170,000 people expected to buy individual polices through MNsure or private insurance agents. "They deserve the security of knowing that more affordable health insurance rates will be available to them and their loved ones in 2018, without confusion or delay."

The Commerce Department, however, said that once rates are announced Monday, they cannot change, so people hunting for policies can make decisions for next year.

Council of Health Plans President Jim Schowalter wrote a letter to Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman seeking a delay in release of rates. He said that besides confusion for consumers, there is a financial risk involved, and the money Washington promised may not come through. "The federal government has had a very bad track record following through on commitments."