Explainer: MNsure "metal" levels

MNsure call center
MNsure contact center employee Jumoke Furo talks with supervisor Stephen Minikel during the first day of operation at the call center Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. Although the MNsure program doesn't begin until Oct. 1, 2013, the call center is open to assist consumers with questions regarding the the online health insurance marketplace.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

A total of 141 plans for individuals and families will be offered on MNsure, Minnesota's health insurance exchange that opens Oct. 1. Sixty-three plans will be available to small businesses.

Premium rates vary by region, age and smoking status.

If you're a 25-year-old non-smoker living in the Twin Cities, you can pay $91 a month for a "bronze" plan, the cheapest option on the exchange.

But if you're a 60-year-old in the Twin Cities and want a more robust "platinum" plan, you'll see a list price of about $408 a month.

So what are these "metal" levels of individual and small group insurance plans -- bronze, silver and gold?

Comparing health insurance policies is complicated because the coverage can vary so widely from one plan to another. For example, one policy might pay most of your health care costs if you're hospitalized, while another requires you, the consumer, to pay a hefty chunk of the expenses if you get sick. And of course the premium cost typically goes up as the coverage gets more extensive.

The federal health care law divides health plans to be sold on health insurance exchanges such as MNsure into four categories, which named after metals: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum -- the more precious the metal, the more generous the plan on average -- and the higher the premiums.

The tradeoff is this: the higher the premiums and the more extensive the coverage, the lower the out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles and co-pays.

Bronze plan: Will pay about 60% of the cost of the plan's benefits; the consumer pays the rest in deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

Silver plan: Will pay about 70% of the enrollees' health care costs on average; the consumer is responsible for the remaining 30%.

Gold plan: Will pay about 80% of the costs; the consumer is responsible for the remaining 20%.

Platinum plan: Will pay about 90% of the costs; the consumer is responsible for the remaining 10%.

More information here.