ST. PAUL-Soaring insurance premiums apparently jolted Minnesotans into seeking federal aid to pay for their policies.

The state's health insurance marketplace, MNsure, announced on Tuesday, Nov. 29, that the number of Minnesotans getting financial aid for 2017 policies tripled over this year.

Rural Minnesotans especially benefit from the aid, which comes from the federal government, MNsure Allison O'Toole said in a Forum News Service interview.

Sixty-eight percent of greater Minnesota enrollees will receive financial aid to buy private health insurance plans, O'Toole said, compared to 53 percent in the Twin Cities.

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"I have been hearing from the farming community ... that this is having a huge impact on them," she said about rising insurance costs and Blue Cross Blue Shield dropping out of the regular health insurance market.

The average individual insurance policy cost rise is up to 67 percent, state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman has said, warning that even higher rates are possible if state officials do not take action. While just about 5 percent of Minnesotans buy individual policies, a higher percentage gets them in greater Minnesota.

Most Minnesotans' insurance comes from their employees or a government program.

People in many counties in western and southern Minnesota no longer can buy normal insurance, after Medica reached a limit it imposed on selling new policies. That leaves thousands of Minnesotans with just a Blue Cross health maintenance organization plan that costs more, includes high deductibles and often does not include in its network local doctors insured people have used for years.

Those in five central Minnesota counties will continue to be able to buy Medica policies because Blue Plus is not available there.

Insurers have limited the number of new policies, other than Blue Plus, they will sell this year. It is not clear how near their caps they are.

O'Toole said people need to make arrangements for insurance as soon as possible.

The aid comes through tax credits, which so far amount to about $637 a month for plans being bought for next year, MNsure reported. The average aid given for this year's policies was $427.

"For many of our customers, we're seeing that the amount of their tax credit is significantly or completely offsetting the amount of their premium increase," O'Toole said.

While private insurance agents also may sell individual policies, tax credits are available only on MNsure.

O'Toole said Minnesotans may find people to help them navigate the insurance-sales process at

Eligible for credit

About 100,000 Minnesotans were eligible for tax credits last year, but did not take advantage of them, O'Toole said. An insurance shopping comparison tool on the MNsure website can tell people if they qualify for financial aid, which lowers premiums.

Minnesotans must buy insurance by Dec. 15 to have it in force by Jan. 1.

Nearly 30,000 have bought policies since sales started on Nov. 1, O'Toole said. MNsure's goal, before Blue Cross limited its offerings, was to enroll 72,000 people in individual 2017 policies.

O'Toole said MNsure is beginning to automatically renew about 45,000 customers' policies, although policy holders still may change them.