Minnesota Health Insurance Plan Overwhelmed by Applicants

Minnesota State Capitol
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MinnesotaCare, the state’s health insurance plan for the poor and working poor, has experienced a 25 percent increase in applications so far this year, placing a significant burden on processing time and thus delaying coverage for many people. The surge in applications can be blamed on several factors, not least of which is a growing number of people either losing their jobs or losing health insurance when their employers drop coverage because of cost.

To qualify for MinnesotaCare, applicants must be a resident, meet specific income requirements based on the federal poverty guidelines (e.g., cannot exceed $20,808 for a single person, $28,008 for a household of two, and $58,308 for household of four), have assets that do not exceed $10,000 for a household of one and $20,000 for a household of two or more, and have no access to employer-subsidized health insurance coverage. Some other restrictions also apply.

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The large influx of applicants has doubled the application processing time to eight weeks, even though the Minnesota Department of Human Services has hired more staff. Some applications take even longer, which means many people without health insurance are delaying needed health care or may be getting bills they cannot pay.

People who enroll in MinnesotaCare must pay health insurance premiums based on a sliding scale. According to the MinnesotaCare website, the program paid $434 million for medical services provided to enrollees in 2007. This year, the program cost $534 million and will cover about 117,200 state citizens. More than 60 percent of these costs are paid for by the state through a tax on health care providers. The federal government picks up nearly 30 percent of the bill, while premium payments from program participants cover about 7 percent.

Until the economy improves and more people return to work where they have access to employer-provided health insurance, applications for MinnesotaCare may continue to rise. The program already estimates that enrollment will grow 11 percent over the next two years, while rising medical costs will increase by more than three times that level.

SOURCES:
MinnesotaCare website
Star Tribune, August 25, 2009

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