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MNsure Officials Say System Off to Smooth Start

STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press
November 16, 2014 08:37 AM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota's health insurance exchange MNsure got off to a successful relaunch Saturday and quickly started enrolling people in coverage for 2015, its executive director said.

Scott Leitz said he and his fellow MNsure officials were pleased there had been no apparent issues with the website since it went live as scheduled at 8 a.m. for its second annual open enrollment season.

"We know that people are successfully enrolling in affordable, comprehensive health coverage for 2015," Leitz told reporters.

It came as a marked contrast to MNsure's inaugural launch last year, which was marked by serious technical problems with the site after it went live several hours late and by long waits for help from an overwhelmed and short-staffed call center. But a new leadership team under Leitz spent several months and millions of dollars overhauling and extensively testing the system to get it ready for this fall.

Around 140 people had enrolled in health plans and the call center had fielded over 1,000 calls by around midday, with waits averaging around a minute, MNsure officials said. The website experienced about 6,000 unique visitors by midday, and at any given time around 1,000 people were shopping and comparing plans offered by five participating carriers.

"We are relieved," Leitz said with a laugh. "We were cautiously optimistic that we would have a good launch this year, and we're really pleased that that seems to be playing itself out."

More than 300 call center workers were hired, and more than 1,000 trained "assisters" are available statewide to provide free in-person help to anyone needing guidance in signing up for the first time or renewing. About 100 operators were on duty Saturday to serve customers in several languages, including English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong.

But things didn't go smoothly for everyone. Heidi Michaels, an insurance broker with Dyste Williams who's also president-elect of the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters, said she and a client spent a half-hour on the phone with the call center just to get the client's password reset. Then they found that her personal information from last year wasn't in the system anymore, so they had to re-enter it.

"But we were able to go through all the process this year once we had her account reset, which was an improvement over last year," Michaels said.

However, Michaels added, the client was then disappointed to learn that she wasn't eligible for financial assistance, even though MNsure's guidance indicated she probably would be. She said that casts doubt on MNsure's claims that most people will qualify for some help this year. The client finally used a paper application to directly enroll in a private plan off the exchange, which Michaels said took only 10 minutes.

More than 371,000 Minnesotans signed up for private insurance or public programs during MNsure's first 12 months. While the vast majority enrolled in the public Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs for lower-income people, nearly 56,000 signed up for individual private plans.

Consumers face tight deadlines for locking in the coverage that's now required of almost everyone under the federal Affordable Care Act. While open enrollment runs through Feb. 15, people have until only Dec. 15 to enroll in policies that take effect Jan. 1. People who enrolled in the public programs over the past year, however, don't need to do anything to re-enroll until they hear from the state in the coming weeks.

MNsure's new marketing campaign starts in earnest on Sunday. The main theme is: "95 percent of Minnesotans now have health insurance. 100 percent need it."

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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