By Mary Van Beusekom • When Richard Harri retired in 2007 at age 56, he and his wife, Peggy Hiestand-Harri, thought the $52,000 in his health savings account would cover their health care expenses until Medicare kicked in at age 65. But when the stock market tanked in 2008, the health savings account took a $17,000 hit.
“That really threw us into a crisis,” said Hiestand-Harri, now 62.
They jury-rigged coverage, but Hiestand-Harri said it’s been financially and emotionally draining. The Duluth couple anticipates relief from the stress of uncertain health insurance when a policy they planned to sign up for through MNsure goes into effect Jan. 1.
MNsure is Minnesota’s version of the insurance marketplace established under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). The marketplace is one-stop shopping where consumers and businesses with up to 50 employees can compare prices and coverage among the available plans.
Basic health care covered
All plans must cover essential health care such as doctor visits, hospital stays and prescription drugs. They can’t charge a copayment for preventive care such as mammograms, Pap smears and screenings for high blood pressure or cancer.
The plans come in four levels—bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Bronze is basic coverage; silver is standard; and gold and platinum plans offer higher coverage with higher premiums.
Insurers can’t deny coverage due to preexisting conditions, gender or occupation. Adult children can stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
Older people who buy private insurance before they are eligible for Medicare at 65 can’t be charged more than three times the rate of younger customers’ premiums.
Consumers can call MNsure’s information line, 855-366-7873, toll-free or meet with a “navigator” trained by the federal government. Navigators will help explain the differences among the health plans offered and how to apply for coverage.
AARP Minnesota is participating in health fairs throughout the state to remind people about the insurance marketplace and help them get more information.
Through the marketplace, “it will be much easier to compare as far as benefit design, price of the plan and even the quality components of the plan,” said Mary Jo George, AARP Minnesota associate state director of advocacy.
In 2011, more than 85,000 Minnesota residents ages 50 to 64 were uninsured, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute, and fewer than half of private-sector employers provided workers with health insurance coverage.
But when ACA coverage begins Jan. 1, said April Todd-Malmlov, MNsure executive director, “people who don’t have coverage will have the kind of coverage they need when they need it.”
People who choose a plan by Dec. 15 will have coverage on Jan. 1. People who enroll later will receive coverage about a month after they sign up.
Help with premium cost
Low- and middle-income people may qualify for a subsidy that can be used to lower the monthly premium or can be taken as a tax credit on their federal income tax returns. People with incomes of less than about $46,000 for a single person and about $94,000 for a family of four may qualify.
The ACA requires most Americans to have health insurance beginning next year or pay a penalty of at least $95 on their federal tax return.
Hiestand-Harri, for one, is looking forward to the changes.
“I think our darker days are behind us,” she said.
Mary Van Beusekom is a writer living in Excelsior, Minn.