The number of people covered by small group health insurance in Minnesota grew by 15 percent last year, ending a string of annual enrollment declines stretching back to 2004.
Price hikes and tight limits last year on doctor and hospital choices in the individual market prompted consumers to look for ways to go back to the small group market, the Star Tribune reported.
The small group market gives employer health plans with coverage to groups of 50 people or less. The individual market mostly serves people under age 65 who are self-employed or work for a company that doesn’t offer group coverage. The market has changed under Affordable Care Act, which stopped insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Individual market enrollment declined by about 80,000 people last year, According to the Minnesota Council of Health Plans.
“When care is so expensive, people will do whatever they can to make do,” said Jim Schowalter, chief executive of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, a trade group for health insurers.
Prior to its increase, the small group market had been shrinking for years as employers struggled with rising health care costs.
Insurers say the increase shows how consumers move back and forth between the markets for individual and small employer coverage as they try to handle price increases. They say the state’s stronger economy and tight labor market have assisted in driving the increase, along with employers working to recruit and retain talented employees.
The expansion of the small group coverage last year doesn’t mean cost concerns among small employers have gone away, said Bentley Graves of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. But he said small employers still feel caught between the financial pain of offering coverage and the knowledge that providing benefits is important for recruiting and retaining talent in the tight labor market.
“Employers are going to do almost anything they can to continue to maintain this benefit,” Graves said. “The labor market is getting tighter and tighter.”
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