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Deadline extended for Minnesotans to buy health insurance

ST. PAUL -- Next week's impending deadline for Minnesotans to buy health insurance on the individual market just got a little looser. The open enrollment period for 2017 health insurance had been scheduled to run through Tuesday, Jan. 31. But on ...

ST. PAUL - Next week’s impending deadline for Minnesotans to buy health insurance on the individual market just got a little looser.

The open enrollment period for 2017 health insurance had been scheduled to run through Tuesday, Jan. 31. But on Saturday the state-run MNsure exchange authorized a one-week extension to Feb. 8.

Prompting this special enrollment period was the Legislature’s Jan. 26 passage of 25 percent premium relief for around 120,000 Minnesotans who buy individual market insurance but earn too much to get federal subsidies .

“Given how close enactment of the premium relief bill was to the deadline for open enrollment, we believe Minnesotans needed more time to benefit from this important opportunity to lower their monthly health insurance bill by 25 percent,” MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole said in a statement.

State officials fear many Minnesotans had been putting off buying insurance because of the high costs, and hope the 25 percent discounts will change their minds and bring people back into the market. On Friday, the state launched an outreach program to tell Minnesotans about the discounts in the hopes of securing sign-ups by the old Jan. 31 deadline.

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Minnesota had previously asked the federal government to extend open enrollment by a month. President Barack Obama’s administration denied this request in early January , but Gov. Mark Dayton asked President Donald Trump’s administration to reconsider. That request is still pending even after MNsure’s one-week special enrollment period.

State Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, initially proposed the extension last year. He’s a sharp MNsure critic but said the one-week special enrollment period announced Saturday was “good news.”

“If we can get a few more people signed in, and if they can get signed up knowing they’ll get premium relief, I think that’s a good move,” Davids said.

Because MNsure is a state-run health insurance exchange, it has authority to launch special enrollment periods “under exceptional circumstances,” a MNsure release says. O’Toole decided that the late passage of premium relief qualified as such a circumstance.

Plans purchased during the first week of February will take effect in March.

The February special enrollment period is slightly more limited than the regular open enrollment period which ends Jan. 31. Ordinarily Minnesotans can buy health insurance either through MNsure.org or directly from an insurance provider. The one-week special enrollment period is only for plans purchased through MNsure. People who want to buy plans without going through MNsure must do so by Jan. 31.

Some Minnesotans will have even more time to buy insurance. A previously announced special enrollment period runs through the end of February - but only for people who had their 2016 coverage involuntarily terminated. That primarily affects the 103,000 former Blue Cross Blue Shield customers after Blue Cross pulled out of the market , as well as some former HealthPartners customers after that company pulled back from some Minnesota counties.

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