Eligible Minnesotans now getting 25 percent health insurance premium discounts

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Earlier this year, Deb Reed looked over her family’s bills and wondered if she and her husband would have to drop their insurance.

The 63-year-old Willmar, Minn., resident and her husband, Steven, are both semiretired and had saved up money — but were paying more than $1,000 each for health coverage that didn’t even cover many of Steven Reed’s medical bills.

Now salvation has arrived, in the form of a $310 million rescue package passed by state lawmakers in January. Months later, the relief has finally reached people like Deb Reed in the form of 25 percent discounts on her sky-high premiums.

“It was a real blessing,” said Reed. “When you’re looking at these doctor’s bills coming in but you’re still dishing out $2,016 a month … to hear that you might get 25 percent back on your insurance, I felt like I had hit the lotto.”

DISCOUNTS ARE RETROACTIVE

Reed’s experience was similar to most eligible Minnesotans: After paying full premiums for the first few months of the year, she’s now getting a 25 percent discount, starting with her just-received May bill. But because the discount is retroactive, Reed and most other eligible Minnesotans owe nothing for their May bill. That’s because multiple months of 25 percent discounts are applied all at once. 

The rebates apply to people who buy insurance on the individual market, and not to people who get insurance through an employer or through a government program such as Medicare or Medical Assistance. Only Minnesotans who don’t qualify for federal premium subsidies can get the state-funded subsidies.

There are no firm statistics on how many Minnesotans are receiving the rebate. As many as 120,000 people may have been eligible, but the state department of Minnesota Management and Budget won’t have final data until insurers ask the state to be reimbursed for the discounts they’ve provided their customers.

Adam Vetvick, a 30-year-old St. Paul attorney who’s been paying $460 per month for his Medica plan, also saw the discount appear on his May bill. For Vetvick, that was a lucky break — he’d been out of the country and had forgotten to pay his bill. When he returned home, he discovered he didn’t actually owe anything due to the retroactive state aid.

“It makes a huge difference,” Vetvick said of the $115 discount he’ll get each month for the rest of the year. “I budgeted for the $460. Now it’s definitely nice to have an extra $100 in my pocket, but I don’t know what on Earth I’m going to do with it.”

REBATES TOOK MONTHS TO IMPLEMENT

Though the premium-relief plan became law in late January, it took the state’s insurers months to update their computer systems to process the rebates. Most Minnesotans saw the discount on their May bill, received in the past week. Customers with UCare insurance got their discount a month early, for their April bills.

Sheri Sexton, a dairy farmer from southeastern Minnesota, stood in front of a podium in January next to Gov. Mark Dayton and begged lawmakers to pass the premium-relief package. She’s also finally received her discount — about $500 off the monthly $2,000 bill she and her husband, Vince, get.

“It’s pretty nice,” Sexton said. “With the farm economy the way it is right now, anything helps.”

Having the May bill entirely paid for was nice, but Sexton and Reed both wish lawmakers had acted more quickly so the discount could have been applied from the start of the year.

“I had to wait for four months to get it,” Sexton said. “That was quite a while.”

DISCOUNT APPLIED AUTOMATICALLY ON BILLS

Minnesotans need to pay whatever their insurance company bills them for in full, rather than applying a discount on their own. The discount will be reflected on their regular bills.

The Minnesota Council of Health Plans recommends that people who pay their premium through automatic bill pay check to make sure the automatic payment reflects the new, lower bill. People who are eligible for the discount but don’t get it should contact their insurance company.

The premium relief will last only for the rest of 2017. Open enrollment for 2017 insurance ended in February. Lawmakers passed a different program to try to lower premiums in 2018, called “reinsurance,” in which the state will pay for some high-cost medical claims that could otherwise drive up everyone’s premiums.

This article originally appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. To view the original article, please click here

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