By Don Davis
Minnesotans will be able to shop for health insurance through a state marketplace beginning Oct. 1, but may not see savings for a couple of years.
Minutes after Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday signed a bill into law establishing the marketplace, to be known as MNsure, he said that it eventually will save Minnesotans money, but not until 2015 or later.
Many cost savings will come from a shift in how Minnesotans get health care, the governor said. A federal law requiring people to carry health insurance combined with the new insurance marketplace should draw many away from going to expensive emergency rooms for routine treatment and convince them to get preventative and normal treatment in doctors’ offices, Dayton said.
Lowering health care costs was a goal from Democrats who backed the MNsure bill.
“In some ways, we are on new ground,” Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said. “We know we have to go somewhere new because the price of health care is killing us.”
The biggest change in health care in decades, MNsure will open on Oct. 1 for Minnesotans to shop online, by phone or in person for health insurance policies that will begin Jan. 1. Federal law, popularly known as Obamacare, requires states to establish insurance marketplaces or Washington will do it.
“We are far better off doing it our way and having control over it,” Dayton said.
Only Washington, Oregon and Maryland are as far along as Minnesota in setting up a marketplace. States surrounding Minnesota are allowing federal official to set up their marketplaces.
Senate bill author Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said that MNsure should remain stable even if Republicans who oppose the measure take over the Legislature. With staggered terms for members of a seven-member board governing MNsure, a state leadership change should not force a wild swing, he said.
Still, he said, “over time, there will be changes.”
“No one is saying this is perfect out of the box,” Dayton added.
More work is needed to control health care costs, Lourey said, because MNsure only deals with insurance. “We have significant work left to do.”
Estimates are that 1.3 million Minnesotans will buy insurance from MNsure, including most on state health care programs. Nearly 300,000 who now are not insured are expected to have insurance under MNsure.
The issue has been politically charged in Minnesota and nationally, with most Republicans opposed to the measure Democrats passed. However, Dayton said he feels “the people have spoken” and they favor the marketplace, also known as an exchange.
“The people won,” Lourey said.