‘Out of Work’ health care options aired

by Britt Aamodt
Special to the Star News

Stewart Wilson, senior vice president at The Bank of Elk River, had planned to give a talk on mortgages, loans and foreclosures at Feb. 15’s Out Of Work seminar. But he got sick and had to cancel.

Wilson was scheduled to present with two other speakers who were, coincidentally enough, from the medical industry. Or more precisely, from the health insurance arm of the medical industry. Folks acquainted with everything from stomach bugs to quintuple-bypass surgery and chemotherapy.

So, Paul Schrup and Sara Wagner maybe couldn’t give Wilson a reprieve from the common head cold, but, if he’d been there, they could have given him the goods on health insurance.
Schrup and Wagner are veterans of the industry, each with more than 20 years in the business. On the very day that

Gov. Mark Dayton announced his proposed budget cuts, which if passed would shave money from Minnesota Care, the state’s subsidized health-care plan, Schrup and Wagner were talking options with the crowd gathered at Rockwoods Bar & Grill in Otsego.

“It’s better to have health insurance than to not have health insurance,” Schrup started off. Schrup works for CBIZ, which advises schools and businesses on health insurance plans.

Most people would agree with Schrup. Health insurance is great to have for those “just in case” scenarios. Yet, a handful of the individuals attending the talk, sponsored by ISD 728 Community Education in conjunction with its five-part series geared to the unemployed, had lost jobs and their insurance along with that means of support.

Job loss and insufficient financial resources are primary reasons for individuals and families to go without insurance.
Attendee Duane Lilja lost his job over two years ago. He still has health insurance, owing to a disability, but his wife doesn’t.

“My job had provided insurance for both of us,” said Lilja. “I’m just here to see if I can find out something for my wife.”

Schrup offered information on the big four health insurance alternatives for Minnesotans who don’t already qualify for insurance through a job or family member: COBRA, Minnesota Care, MCHA and private insurance.
COBRA, or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows people who’ve been let go from a job to continue coverage through a previous employer’s group health plan.

“This is very expensive,” Schrup warned. “You pay the full amount for the insurance. But it’s probably your best first option when you lose a job.”

Whereas COBRA coverage ends after 180 days, Minnesota Care provides subsidized, long-term coverage to those who meet certain eligibility requirements. Participants pay on a sliding-fee scale based on family size and income.

The Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA) offers insurance to individuals who have been turned down by other providers because of pre-existing health conditions.

Sara Wagner from HealthPartners went over private individual and family plans, including health savings plans, dental coverage and short-term health plans in various increments that can provide a bridge when coverage is lost due to job loss.

It’s tempting to forego health insurance when facing unemployment, but Wagner urged the audience to avoid lapses in health coverage. When there are lapses, an insurance company’s underwriters are more likely to deny coverage to applicants.

Though navigating health insurance isn’t easy, Wagner said, “in Minnesota we’re fortunate because our state already has a number of safety nets in place like Minnesota Care and MCHA.”

Stewart Wilson’s presentation on bank loans, mortgages and foreclosures has been rescheduled for March 29.

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