Minnesotans can test drive health care exchanges starting Monday

Health Exchange work group
Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Michael Rothman, left, chairman of the Exchange task force, and Exchange Director April Todd-Malmlov listen as the task force met for the first time Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011 in St. Paul, Minn.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

Minnesotans will be able to test drive the state's future health insurance marketplace when several prototypes of insurance exchanges are made available online Monday for public review.

The health insurance exchanges are a cornerstone of the federal health care law, and are intended to make it easier for consumers to comparison shop for health insurance. The Minnesota exchange is expected to officially launch in about three years.

An insurance exchange has been likened to an Expedia or Travelocity for health insurance -- the idea being that consumers will have a one-stop market to buy health insurance online or by phone. The format is supposed to give consumers apples-to-apples comparisons of various insurers' coverage and costs.

Until now, Minnesota's exchange has only existed as a concept, but several companies will put their prototypes online for public review.

Commerce Department officials said even they haven't seen the prototypes yet, and won't until they are published on the state's website at noon.

Link: Minn. health insurance exchange test

Bloomington-based Ceridian will have one of the prototypes. Vice President Manny Munson-Regala, who also worked on Minnesota's exchange as an official of the Pawlenty administration, says Ceridian will have an interactive simulation of shopping on an exchange.

"What you'll have a chance to do is be in the role of a small employer, an employee," he said. "You'll get a sense of what the enrollment process will feel like, how you set up payments and confirm."

Minnesota's approach to building an exchange is unique among the states, Munson-Regala said. Instead of asking companies to build the entire exchange, it's asked companies to provide demonstrations for particular components, such as the small employer or private individual access points.

"One, it allows Minnesota the flexibility to pick the 'best in breed' with any of the components," he said. "Two, it gives them the flexibility to decide and implement a multiple number of policy options, particularly important since those policy decisions have yet to be made."

Minnesota hasn't yet decided if the exchange will select the health insurance plans to be offered, or if it will be open to all health insurance plans that meet certain requirements.

Most of the companies are expected to have interactive demos up on the site. Leslie Wolfe of Virginia-based Maximus says it produced a video that will provide a guided tutorial about the exchange experience. Wolfe says rather than having a mini-application, Maximus thought a video would make more sense because many of the people who will be using the exchange will be buying health insurance for the first time.

"We've developed a kind of a movie to describe not only what the screens mean but what kinds of information are going to be needed from someone, how the exchange will have to accomodate a family composition and their specific requirements," she said.

Other companies that will have online demonstrations are Deloitte, Curam, and GetInsured.com for specific components.

Commerce officials expect a variety of tire-kickers to check out the demos, including small employers, individuals and health plans. Minnesota Exchange Director April Todd-Malmlov says the state wants feedback.

"We'll have a questionaire tool that's on there that will ask people what did you most like about this prototype, what could be improved about that prototype, and then give us a sense of who they are, who's responding," she said. "Are they a consumer, are they a provider, are they an insurer, so we can look at the responses and see how different groups think of the component pieces."

The insurance exchange sites will be available through the Minnesota Department of Commerce website until the end of January.

A state advisory task force will offer guidance to Commerce Department officials on which vendors should ultimately build the state's exchange. The department says it will ultimately make the final decision.

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This report is part of a collaboration between MPR News, Kaiser Health News, and NPR.

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