by CHRIS ROGERS
It’s health insurance enrollment time. The Affordable Care Act is still standing, and from November 1 to December 15 in Wisconsin or November 1 to January 14 in Minnesota, Winona area residents can sign up for new health insurance policies or switch plans. Many of them will pay more for health insurance next year.
Premiums rise in Southeast Minn., Western Wis.
On the individual market, premiums for a middle-of-the-road “benchmark plan” for a 40-year-old in Winona County will increase seven percent next year, from $555.01 to $595.72 per month, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
The increase in Southeast Minnesota differs from the statewide trend. Premiums will actually decrease in much of the state in 2018, and Southeast Minnesota is one of the only areas in the state where prices for benchmark plans are going up in 2018, according to the commerce department.
Across the river, Wisconsinites have paid less for health insurance in recent years, but steep rate increases in 2018 will bring the monthly premiums for the individual market in Trempealeau County into the same price range as Winona County. A benchmark plan — defined as the second-cheapest silver plan — will cost a 40-year-old Arcadian $552.52 in 2018, up from $416.88 in 2017, according to data from healthcare.gov. That is a 33 percent increase.
Many people get insurance through their employer, and according to Winona Agency President Garry Watts, monthly premiums for most group plans in Winona — the kind small businesses offer to employees — will go up between 8-14 percent next year. “I’d say it’s pretty impactful for small business and their finances,” Watts stated.
Southeast Minn. still most expensive in state
There is still nowhere in the North Star State where it is more expensive to buy health insurance than in Southeast Minnesota. In the nine counties orbiting Rochester’s Olmsted County, premiums are higher than anywhere else in Minnesota. The $595.72 monthly premium for a benchmark plan for a 40-year-old in Southeast Minnesota is a full 15 percent higher than the next highest-priced region, Southwest Minnesota, where a similar plan costs $516.28. The metro area has the lowest prices: $327.22 for a similar plan.
Half-billion-dollar program may have moderated hikes in Minn.
It isn’t saying much, but that seven percent rate increase for the individual market in Minnesota is more modest than the last hike. From 2016 to 2017, individual premiums across Minnesota went up 58 percent, with the price of some Winona County plans rising by 64 percent.
In response to that meteoric hike, the Minnesota Legislature took action, passing a package of short-term, one-time premium relief or financial aid within the first several weeks of this spring’s legislative session and later, creating a more than $500-million re-insurance program. The program essentially insures insurers, helping to pay for their sickest members’ most costly claims, and lawmakers hoped it would help moderate rates for the next two years. Minnesota Republican leaders, including Senator Jeremy Miller (Winona), say the 2018 rate increases are a sign of the program’s success. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton said the program helps but is financial unsustainable.
During this spring’s legislative session, Winona area legislators on both sides of the aisle talked about how to address the underlying cost of health care, but deferred to Congress and the federal government, whose bids to repeal, replace, or revise the Affordable Care Act could have drastically changed health care nationwide.
Financial aid, help signing up available
There are government programs on both sides of the river that help cover the cost of insurance for low- and moderate-income citizens. Wisconsonites may apply for aid and shop for insurance plans at www.healthcare.gov. Minnesotans may shop and apply at www.mnsure.org.
The Winona County Community Services Department offers face-to-face help applying for health insurance on Mondays and Wednesdays by appointment and on Fridays on a first-come, first-served basis. The community services department is located at 202 West Third Street, in Winona, and may be reached at 507-457-6500 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
MNsure also promotes a network of “assisters” that includes insurance brokers who work for companies selling insurance and who have been certified by the state to help people apply for aid and shop for plans. According to MNsure, there are four insurance brokers who are certified assisters in Winona County: Katie Christopherson at Atlas Insurance Brokers, Anne Lubeck at Lubeck Insurance, Thomas Hagen at Winona Agency, and Gregory Zaborowksi with Zaborowski Financial Services.