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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published August 31 2013

MNsure introduces insurance marketplace at state fair

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. – Tom Fournier plans to retire at the first of the year and wants to have his options laid out well in advance, especially health care options.

To learn about some of those options, the Minnesota State Fair worker stopped by a booth at the fair, along with thousands of other Minnesotans, to check out the newly created MNsure health insurance “marketplace.” They looked into the state agency’s new way to buy health insurance, launched in response to new federal law commonly known as Obamacare.

“If it pans out, it’s good,” Fournier said after a few minutes with MNsure’s Shane Delany.

The booth near the fair’s main entrance provided the most personal exposure yet for MNsure, which on Oct. 1 opens a Website that Minnesotans will use to compare and buy health insurance policies that take effect beginning Jan. 1.

The website (telephone and in-person help also will be available) is to serve Minnesotans who do not have employer-supplied insurance or Medicare. It will serve those who need to buy insurance on their own and many Minnesotans who depend on government-funded health care. In response to information Minnesotans provide, the website automatically will apply any available government aid to reduce premiums.

Delany said that one person he helped discovered that after government aid, he could save $1,100 a month by going with an insurance plan from MNsure instead of paying for a continuation of his employer’s plan.

“There is a general sense that there are changes coming in insurance,” MNsure’s John Reich said, even if they do not know the details.

With a large photo of a forest with Paul Bunyon and Babe the blue ox as the booth’s background, and free fans to hand out during one of the hottest Minnesota fairs ever, the booth attracted attention.

Some fair-goers were happy to learn that they may be eligible for state or federal government funds that would reduce insurance costs, Reich said. “For some people, that has been exciting.”

Many parents and grandparents stopped by to ask about how young adult family members can buy insurance. Young adults often go without insurance.

Those working the booth, which cost the state agency $29,000, said they dealt with few people upset about the new federal law, unlike many political debates on the issue.

“It has been a discussion,” Reich said. “There has not been the vitriol.”

That was true when Scott Kutney, of Coon Rapids, stopped by.

As a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, he said he does not trust federal programs like those that created MNsure. The self-employed man said the government has not helped American Indians.

He called the way government officials treat Indians: “Kind of like a Holocaust strategy.”

After talking to Kutney awhile, Delany said that MNsure “probably will be your best bet.”

But the visitor, who remained polite, said he would prefer to buy insurance outside a government program. He said that he did not want to give government any more personal information than he needs to.

While spending time in the booth, state Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said that MNsure opponents need to “take a deep breath and let it out slowly.”

Most Minnesotans should end up paying less by going through MNsure than buying on the private market, Lourey said. In some cases, premiums may be higher, but state and federal aid can push how much a customer pays lower.

At the same time, Lourey said, coverage should be better.