Gov. Mark Dayton has decided that Minnesota's online health insurance exchange should inform consumers how much their coverage will cost before the November election, reversing his earlier position.
On Monday, Dayton said he was not sure if MNsure should release the rates until the start of the next open-enrollment period on Nov. 15. The governor, who is seeking a second term, said the rates would only add to the political shots coming from his Republican critics.
"I think they are going to be so badly distorted for political purposes that I don't think they will shed any light for consumers," he said.,
But in a letter Tuesday to lawmakers serving on a MNsure oversight panel, Dayton said the rate information should be released around Oct. 1, if all of the health plans agree.
In the letter, Dayton said that releasing the information early will give families and businesses more time to make informed decisions about their health coverage options.
However, Dayton cautioned that the Department of Commerce has just received the health plans' initial rate proposals, which must now go through a formal process of review, negotiation and approval. The final information will then go to MNsure for input into its system.
During a meeting of the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee, Republican state Rep. Joe Hoppe of Chaska said he was pleased that Dayton had changed his mind.
"It was nice to see the letter come from the governor," Hoppe said. "I think we all agree at the table that the earlier we can get the rates out and give people more time to look at them the better."
Deputy Commerce Commissioner Tim Vande Hey told members of the oversight committee that he's optimistic that the state will release the rates early.
"I do appreciate that the governor acknowledged in there that really it is important for this process to continue and be completed, as that's the best process we know of to provide reasonable, cost-effective rates to our citizens," Vande Hey said. "At this point in time, I believe that there is a reasonable expectation that we would have it ready for October 1st, and we will certainly make all efforts to comply with that request."
MNsure is a key campaign issue for Republicans, who blame Dayton and other Democrats for the troubled roll out of the exchange and its website. They've also pushed hard for an early release of rates that many expect to be higher next year than this year.
One of those critics, Republican state Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake, said Dayton is doing the right thing.
"I think political pressure in an election year did make a difference," she said. "He was going to be beat up over the rates, whether they were released or not, and hiding them makes it look like he's manipulating the system. So, I'm glad that he's being transparent. He made the right decision."
State Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said he too wants the rates available to consumers before the enrollment period begins. But Atkins, a co-chair of the oversight panel, said he didn't view the release date as a political calculation.
"The real issue was, in terms of the rate release, is giving Commerce the amount of time it needed to actuarially review the rates and then go through the approval process and negotiation take make sure we get the lowest rates possible," he said.
Atkins said he wants the oversight committee to meet next on the same day as the MNsure rates come out. He said lawmakers could then compare those costs to this year and compare Minnesota's rates to neighboring states.