ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Enrollment in Minnesota's struggling online health insurance exchange has grown to more than 53,000 people as a critical sign-up deadline nears, MNsure's board of directors was told Monday.
The number of Minnesotans who have chosen a plan and a payment method as of Friday is up about 14,000 more from mid-December, when the total was nearly 39,000. The total includes people obtaining private insurance as well as coverage through the state-run MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance programs for lower-income people.
Tuesday at midnight is the deadline for Minnesotans to choose a plan and enroll through MNsure to get coverage that takes effect on New Year's Day. The deadline was pushed back from Dec. 23 to accommodate consumers struggling to navigate the clunky website. For those still having trouble with the website, the deadline for paper applications is 6 p.m. Tuesday.
People who sign up by Tuesday have until Jan. 10 to pay their first month's premium. Those who miss the Tuesday deadline have until the end of March to pick a plan before facing penalties, but won't be covered until they do.
MNsure has seen a "steady growth in coverage" but still has technical problems that need to be overcome, Interim CEO Scott Leitz told the board. He also said people who know they absolutely must have coverage in place by Wednesday should consider buying it directly from an insurance company.
"While progress is being made, I think it is safe to say there's still more that needs to be done. ... Not everyone is having a perfect experience yet," said Leitz, a former assistant state human services commissioner. Leitz got the job Dec. 18 after the abrupt resignation of April Todd-Malmlov, who led the drive to build MNsure but came under fire for ongoing troubles with its rollout and for taking a two-week tropical vacation while they remained unsolved.
Wait times for consumers calling MNsure's help line are "still not at an acceptable level" but were averaging 50 minutes Monday, Leitz said. That compares with more than an hour earlier this month.
Experts who examined the call center's operations concluded that it's generally well run but overwhelmed by the system's technical problems and there's no easy fix, said board member Tom Forsythe, a vice president at General Mills.
And there's still a backlog of applications at various stages of the process. More than 72,000 applications covering more than 125,000 people have been submitted, but many of those people have not completed the process and might just have been window shopping, the board was told. Nearly 19,000 applications are actually considered pending, including an unknown number — probably in the "single thousands" — that are stuck somewhere in the system because of technical glitches, Leitz said. MNsure employees have been reaching out to them to try to get them covered, he said.
MNsure officials say people who've paid their premium but have yet to receive their insurance cards will still be covered starting Wednesday. The same holds for people who applied through MNsure and were approved for MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance coverage. Hospitals, clinics and pharmacies can use their automated systems to verify enrollment for patients who need care before their IDs arrive. The Department of Human Services said nearly 30,000 membership cards were being mailed this week.
Anyone whose premium payment arrives after the close of business on Jan. 10 won't be covered until Feb. 1. Although people still have until the end of March to pick a plan before facing penalties, they won't be covered retroactively.
Those who still have questions shouldn't put off asking them. MNsure's call center will close at 3 p.m. Tuesday and will be closed all day Wednesday for the holiday.