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MNsure saw a 10% surge in health insurance sign-ups during its recently completed open enrollment period, the biggest year-over-year jump in five years.

Shoppers buying coverage for 2022 faced a mixed message of rising individual market premiums in Minnesota just as the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) substantially expanded tax credit subsidies that significantly discount premium costs in the market.

The final tally of 134,527 who signed up for private health plans — an increase over the 122,269 people who did so last year — shows how tax credits made coverage more affordable, said Nate Clark, the MNsure chief executive.

Operations at the government-run exchange went smoothly during the enrollment period, Clark said, and some consumers were motivated to find or retain coverage by the COVID-19 pandemic. Open enrollment started Nov. 1 and ended Saturday.

"One of the things we benefitted from this time is just ARPA — it expanded tax credits that were available to consumers and it also made some population groups eligible where they hadn't been before," he said. "The result is you just have significant improvements in affordability and access."

The most recent open enrollment tally set a new sign-up record for MNsure. That's been true now for five different sign-up periods since late 2013, when Minnesota launched MNsure as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

MNsure is a government-run system where individuals can shop for a health plan from a variety of private insurers. It is typically an option used by those who are self-employed or don't get job-based coverage. People who qualify also can tap federal tax credits via MNsure in order to discount their premium costs.

Passed in early 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act allowed many consumers with incomes above 400% of the federal poverty line — $51,040 for an individual and $104,800 for a family of four — to newly qualify for tax credits. It also lowered the share of premiums that some consumers must pay on coverage purchased through a health exchange.

The impact from the federal stimulus legislation shows in MNsure's final open enrollment figures, which were released this week.

More than 58% of those who signed up for coverage qualified for tax credits and the average subsidy per household is $6,089 for the year. Those are significant increases compared with the sign-up period for 2021 coverage, when 49% of households qualified for tax credits that averaged $4,943 per year.

"More Minnesotans than ever before are eligible for tax credits available only through MNsure," Clark said in a statement. "Those credits work like an instant discount on monthly health insurance bills."

Also during the most recent open enrollment, more than 32,000 people used the MNsure system to apply for the state's MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance programs, which provide coverage for those with lower incomes. The sign-up tally for these programs was down just slightly from 33,111 during the previous year's open enrollment period.

More than 29,000 people signed up for dental coverage via MNsure during open enrollment.