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OP-ED: Actually affordable health care choices

Over the past year there has been a lot of media coverage on the increasing cost of health insurance in Minnesota and the lack of access to providers in rural communities. However, during this same time Minnesota has also experienced an all-time high in the number of people insured. Certainly, additional work is needed in the health-care arena to ensure the progress we've made is maintained while affordability and access to care is improved. Recently the governor signed a bill that included premium relief for 125,000 Minnesotans on the individual market for 2017, this is a good first step to ensuring people keep their health insurance this year. But more work is needed to ensure access to health care in the future is not jeopardized — solutions for the 2018 market must move forward now.

Currently there is a health insurance mechanism that is working in rural Minnesota: MinnesotaCare. Right now MinnesotaCare is only available to those Minnesotans who do not get health insurance through their employer or a public program and earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $38,000 for a family of two or just shy of $50,000 for a family of four). Recently Governor Dayton announced an effort to expand MinnesotaCare to cover any Minnesotan in the individual market.

Expanding MinnesotaCare would create marketplace competition. Many rural regions have just one or two plans to choose from, leaving these communities subject to significant premium increases due to lack of competition. Adding MinnesotaCare into the individual market would provide a direct competitor in regions where few exist. This will help address the costs in low-competition regions.

When there is little competition in a marketplace, health insurance companies can be very selective about where and what they will cover. This increases the out-of-pocket costs patients pay and artificially limits choices of doctors and treatments. Those of us from rural Minnesota know this has been especially problematic in our communities where the "in network" provider could be more than a county away. MinnesotaCare will provide much needed competition in rural communities, motivating insurers to provide better plans.

In addition to creating competition, families and individuals who get MinnesotaCare leverage the buying power of more than 1 million people enrolled in public plans. This buying power keeps MinnesotaCare affordable. The average cost of MinnesotaCare will be $469 a month for high-quality health coverage. That's $69 less than the current average statewide premium Minnesotans pay for private coverage.

Expanding MinnesotaCare is the best solution to access to affordable, quality health insurance in our region. It's a simple conclusion to reach because it's already working.

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