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County board hears pros and cons of MNsure

Acknowledging that the federal Affordable Care Act remains controversial, Otter Tail County’s Human Services Director, John Dismore, told county commissioners last week that there is no doubt the program benefits people in need, even though others may see increases in taxes and health care costs.

Otter Tail and other counties in Minnesota, according to Dinsmore, are seeing benefits from MNsure, Minnesota’s marketplace for individuals and businesses seeking health insurance. Minnesota has one of 17 state-based marketplaces created in response to the Affordable Care Act.

 “These 17 states are doing a much better job than 27 other states which opted to have federally-facilitated marketplaces,” Dinsmore told commissioners at a meeting last Tuesday.

Federal website snags have been far greater than at sites developed at the state level. Another seven states have state-federal partnerships.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, and other health insurance companies, have plans available on MNsure. To shop for those plans online, step one is to create an account. Step two is to complete a short list of questions. Choosing a health insurance plan is part of step three. Sign up and payment plans are part of step four.

Dinsmore told commissioners earlier this year that Minnesota hopes to leverage the Afforable Care Act, through MNsure, to expand coverage to more than 145,000 Minnesotans. Many of those individuals reside in Otter Tail County, he said.

“MNsure was designed so that people here in Otter Tail County and across the state could compare, choose and obtain quality health care that best fits their needs and budgets,” said Dinsmore.

He noted that MNsure does have its challenges as the program gets off the ground. One example, as reported by statewide news media last week, relates to the issue of high deductibles as compared to other states.

MNsure was formerly covered through MinnesotaCare, a state funded health program.

“Implementation of the Affordable Care Act allowed the Minnesota State Legislature to move forward without significant disruption to the MinnesotaCare population,” said Dinsmore.

Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill to expand Medical Assistance, the state’s Medicaid program. The federally funded expansion, according to proponents, will save $129 million in the next two-year state budget, and is expected to assist 35,000 Minnesotans.

Otter Tail County’s Human Services Department coordinates 27 different programs and contracts with other agencies throughout the county to provide a variety of programs. Staff members include social workers, financial workers, child support officers, case aides, office support staff and accounting technicians.

“Our department’s mission is to provide an array of financial and social services to families and individuals to help maintain or enhance the quality of life for all persons served,” said Dinsmore.

Tom Hintgen, Otter Tail County Correspondent