PUBLISHERS NOTEBOOK: Navigating MNsure website
turns out to be anti-climactic
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 10:31 AM
A reader took issue with the subject of my last column on the nicknames of teams, particularly the Washington Redskins. I don't often write about national issues unless I tie them to Minnesota or even more local topics and I thought I did a fair job showing why Minnesota has been receptive to changing offensive mascots and names related to American Indians.
The reader, who posted a comment on our web page, reminded me that this is southeastern Minnesota not Washington, D.C. As an alternative, he suggested I explore the obstacles of trying to obtain health care coverage through the new exchanges, which is also a national issue, but perhaps more in tune with his views than changing offensive, or racist, nicknames.
The exchanges were set up as a result of the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. And, most of the obstacles are national in scope as there have been fewer problems in Minnesota, which set up its own exchange.
That's not to say there haven't been any problems. Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston) blasted MNsure, which is the state exchange, in a news release recently. He said part of the problem stems from MNsure's failure to distribute necessary application information to participating health plans. Without it, a person can't enroll.
He pointed out that $150 million in tax money has been spent to set it up and it isn't functioning the way it was advertised.
I've heard some comments, too, although not about failure to work. For example, a friend recently told me his son, a college graduate in a rigorous program, had a hard time understanding the process. If he can't figure it out, how are some of the people who most need it going to navigate the site?
I wasn't sure how to write about this topic since there are so many opinions, so I decided to check it out for myself. Since I offer insurance to my employees, I felt it was my duty to investigate to see if I can get a better deal anyway.
My experience won't relate to most people since I am viewing MNsure from an employer perspective, but it will give an idea of how the system works and what results I get.
So last week, I took some time out to navigate the MNsure website. I had to enroll as an individual first, so I am assuming this was similar to most people's experiences.
I have been on and off several times and never experienced technological problems that are the focus of so much criticism. Although somewhat complex and requiring some tedious information, I made my way through the site to the plans without getting bumped off or losing information.
My first surprise was that 12 plans were available for my company. I had heard about the lack of choices in southeastern Minnesota, but that didn't appear to be a problem as the policies ranged from zero deductible to a $4,000 deductible policy.
My first shock was the price, which seemed extremely high. I figured out why, though, on my second visit to the site. To save time, I had put only myself on the company roster because I didn't have all the employee information and was mostly just curious at this point.
Later that night, I wondered if it was basing the policy on my age, which is on the older side and means higher premiums for the insurance my business has now. I went back and entered a couple younger employees and when I got to the quotes page, the price was even higher.
With all the negative publicity, my first thought was that the system is buggy and this is a mistake. However, another night, and more thoughts about why led me to the question that maybe it was adding all the premiums together.
My third visit to the site confirmed my theory and I discovered and then clicked on a link that broke down the premiums by employee.
So what did I find? Although no policy exactly matched the one I had, which has a low deductible, the closest ones to the policies I now offer had very similar rates for my employees. The zero deductible policy that may be attractive to some employees because it means less out of pocket expenses was just a few dollars more in cost. The higher deductible plans that may also be of interest to some employees because it lowers the cost (my company pays 50 percent) had significant savings.
My experience isn't typical. I don't own a company with more than 50 employees so I'm not mandated to provide insurance. I also already have insurance, so I'm not shopping for the first time.
My experience leads me to think that the complaints about the workings of MNsure are political in nature rather than constructive criticism. However, this first experience says nothing about whether the Affordable Care Act is a good or bad thing.
It's going to take some time to reach a verdict on the success or failure of Obamacare. And my experience will have little bearing on this because the act wasn't designed for people like me in mind. And, to reach a decision, we'll have to tune out some of the political noise that attaches to any crumb in an effort to discredit an opposing viewpoint.