MNsure seeks to increase college enrollment numbers

by Ellen Schmidt

Whether out of convenience or budget restrictions, college-age residents are choosing to stay on parent or school-sponsored insurance plans rather than opting in to MNsure.
Only about 7 percent of 18- to 25-year-old Minnesota residents enrolled in MNsure insurance this past year, in contrast to 17 percent of 26- to 34-year-old Minnesotans.
“People in that [college] age group are looking for the easiest option.” said Elizabeth Lukanen, deputy director at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, which is a University of Minnesota health policy research organization. “While student insurance is in direct sight, MNsure might be in students’ peripheral vision.”
The numbers reflect a larger concern among health policy officials, who are worried about MNsure’s decreasing enrollment.
A MNsure taskforce, created by state legislators, will examine potential changes to bring the health care exchange’s numbers up by 2016. The taskforce — a panel of 26 health care officials — will assemble in the coming months.  
In order to increase enrollment overall and cover costs of the program, University political science professor Larry Jacobs said students are essential for MNsure’s success.
“MNsure needs to find a way to penetrate the student universe,” he said. 
About 70 percent of University students reported using alternate insurance to student options, according to the Student Health Benefits Office’s 2015 data.
MNsure is trying to reach college students through the Graduate with Health Coverage campaign
MNsure spokesman Joe Campbell said the campaign emphasizes the potential benefits of joining the program when student or parent insurance options are no longer available.
Campbell said the health care program’s three-month special enrollment period for college graduates and Minnesota residents turning 26 increases the exchange’s attractiveness over employer-based plans or other public health insurance options, such as Medicaid.
“Where MNsure can make a huge difference is after students graduate or leave their parents’ insurance,” Lukanen said.
Campbell said MNsure will likely break even with its budget in the upcoming year, and officials will continue their work on increasing enrollment.
We do need to grow enrollment, like we’ve expected to do. And college students, if they are eligible, would help us increase enrollment,” he said. “But right now, we’re happy with the place that we are.”