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MNsure buyers could get early look at rates

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People interested in buying health insurance through the state's new online marketplace, MNsure, may get an early look at premium rates, according to a Minnesota Department of Commerce official.

MNsure goes live Oct. 1 with policies that would take effect in January. 

"The Department of Commerce is working actively with [health insurers] to try to come to a resolution that would not only allow us to provide rate information prior to October 1, but would also be accurate and approved rate information," said Tim Vande Hey, deputy commissioner of the department's insurance division at a meeting of the MNsure board Wednesday. 

The Commerce Department is in the midst of reviewing insurance policies proposed for sale on the exchange. But a state law prevents the department from making plan costs public until MNsure goes live. 

Last month, state Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, asked the administration if there is a way around the law. He suggested that premium information be made available, but that the companies remain anonymous.

Atkins said providing the information may help pique interest in MNsure, which needs broad participation to be successful.

Vande Hey didn't detail exactly what information the commerce department may make available prior to Oct 1.

But he did urge caution. 

In theory, he said, publicizing the rate information would foster competition among insurers, driving down the cost of coverage. 

But Vande Hey said it could go the other way if the state releases cost information before the department has signed off on the rates insurers want to charge. Department approval locks in the rates. But if proposed prices come out before then, the companies offering the cheapest plans could simply raise their prices while approval is still pending. 

"I still feel very optimistic that because of the number of plans that are willing to participate in the exchange ... competition will provide [a] benefit" that keeps downward pressure on the cost of coverage, Vande Hey said.