Health exchange under attack in opposition ad campaign

11:57 PM, Aug 12, 2013   |    comments
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  • ST PAUL, Minn. -- The state's new health insurance market place, known as MNsure, is the target of a political campaign aimed at steering consumers away from it.

    A billboard asking people to refuse MNsure has gone up on Snelling Avenue near the State Fairgrounds, and it will remain there throughout the event that draws millions to the neighborhood.

    The outdoor ad was produced by the Citizens Council for Health Freedom, an organization that has opposed the Affordable Care Act from its inception.

    "We look at the exchange as the Achilles heel of ObamaCare," Twila Brace, the council's executive director, told KARE Monday.

    "And we know if the Exchange does not move forward, neither will ObamaCare, so that is why our focus is on stopping the exchange through lack of enrollment."

    Mnsure will be the portal used by roughly 300,000 uninsured or under insured Minnesotans and small businesses to comparison shop for health coverage, and utilize subsidies and credits provided through the ACA.

    "You'll see what the full premium is and then you'll see what the discount is that's associated with the tax credit that you're eligible for at the time you're purchasing your plans," April Todd-Malmlov, the executive director of MNsure, told KARE.

    "You'll be able to see that before you buy."

    Enrollment begins formally on Oct. 1, but the public will gets its first look at the plans being offered through MNsure on Sept. 6. Coverage in those plans will begin Jan. 1.

    People already receiving subsidized health insurance, such as Medical Assistance and Minnesota Care, will be able to apply for those programs through MNsure.

    Most people will enroll online, but there will be in-person enrollment available as well.  The exchange will also feature assistants and "navigators" to help walk people through the process.

    "We're really trying to make it as easy as possible for individuals to get health care coverage and trying to reach them and to encourage them to get the coverage that they need," Todd-Malmlov explained.

    Those who now can buy health coverage through a large employer group plan, and those on Medicare, won't buy their coverage through the exchange.

    They will receive proof-of-insurance forms that will be submitted to the IRS as part of their 2014 tax returns to show they're complying with the new individual mandate that begins Jan. 1.

    The opposition billboard depicts a young woman with her arms crossed and asks passing motorists the question, "Why can't I choose my OWN doctor?"

    It creates the impression that people who enroll in a health plan offered through MNsure won't have say over who their medical provider will be.  A similar message was posed in anti-reform TV ads run by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

    Brace said the message of the billboard is based on the assumptions that the health insurance plans sold through MNsure will have very limited provider networks.  In most health plans customers who receive care out of network are charged a higher deductible or copayment.

    "Essential exchanges have policies with narrow networks so that you may not get the doctor you want," Brace asserted.

    "You may not be able to get the hospital that you want."

    But those plans and provider networks won't be known until after Sept 6, so nobody can say at this time if those buying coverage through MNsure will have to change physicians.

    MNsure's Todd-Malmlov called the billboard campaign flat out misleading.

    "It's unfortunate if misinformation like that is dissuading or discouraging families and small businesses from getting the coverage they need," she said.

    "Really, that type of information is inaccurate."

    She also noted that many of those gaining coverage through the exchange will be picking doctors for the first time because they haven't had insurance of any kind.

    MNsure is beginning to ramp up its public profile and out-of-home advertising to make people aware of the changes coming to the state as well as the opportunities available to purchase coverage.

    MNsure will also have a presence at the State Fair, with exhibit space.

    Todd-Malmlov has hosted a series of Twitter and online question and answer sessions under the hash tag of #AskApril.

    (Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, redistributed or reiterated.)

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