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MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole and Gov. MarkDayton talk to reporters Sept. 20, 2017, about health insurance. Don Davis / Forum News Service

Shopping season begins for insurance policies

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans can begin shopping for individual health insurance policies but only to window shop, not to buy yet.

Since buying insurance for people not covered by employer or government programs can be complicated, state-run MNsure has opened its website for examining and comparing 2018 insurance plans.

Minnesotans may buy 2018 policies Nov. 1 to Jan. 14. Most Americans only have until Dec. 15 to pick policies.

The web tools that are active now can be used to compare any plans available to a customer, MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole said.

She suggested that people who expect to buy insurance via the web at least make sure their account information is up to date before Nov. 1. Accounts may be updated by calling (855) 366-7873 or (651) 539-2099.

If people do not want to enroll via, they may call MNsure or request someone to help them in person.

O'Toole said people should sign up as soon after Nov. 1 as possible, in what she said is the unlikely chance that an insurance company hits the cap for the number of policy it will sell.

Next year's individual insurance policies are not expected to be affected by changes President Donald Trump is making to federal health law.

"It is important for Minnesotans who purchase their health insurance on the individual market to know that while the president's action will almost certainly create higher health insurance costs in the years ahead, it will not immediately impact health insurance rates or federal tax credits available during Minnesota's upcoming open enrollment period," O'Toole, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said in a joint statement.

The commissioners said Trump's actions last week eventually will affect MinnesotaCare, a state insurance program for the poor. Piper and Gov. Mark Dayton have said the state has enough money to keep the program going through next year.

Early this month, state officials announced 2018 individual policies will cost about the same as this year, and most Minnesotans will have more than one insurance company's offerings. However, only Medica will sell policies in Kittson, Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Todd and Meeker counties.

The static prices may be a bit misleading. This year, everyone buying individual policies received a price break. Many received federal subsidies, which are still available, while others got a 25 percent premium rebate from the state. The rebate was for 2017 only, so those who got that this year will pay more next year, although a new state program will reduce the premium increases.

Tools now available on the MNsure website can estimate how much subsidies customers may receive. They are available for individuals earning up to $48,240 annually or a family of four with an income up to $98,400.

About 65 percent of individual policy customers this year received the subsidy, which averages more than $7,000 a year.

While the subsidies are available only to people who buy policies at (or through a person certified to work with MNsure), Minnesotans also may buy policies from private insurance agents.

Fewer than 4 percent of Minnesotans get their policies through the individual market.

Most Minnesotans are not affected by individual market change. They are insured by employer-provided policies or government-funded care such as Medicaid (known as Medical Assistance in Minnesota), Medicare or MinnesotaCare.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.