ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A total of 169,251 Minnesota residents signed up for health insurance coverage by the end of the first open enrollment period, state officials said Tuesday, exceeding the goal set after the troubled launch of the website in October.
Scott Leitz, interim CEO of the MNsure exchange, said that number will grow as people who began the process by Monday night's deadline complete enrollment.
"Today marks the beginning of a new era of health coverage for Minnesotans. We have turned the corner and are able to provide Minnesotans with quality, affordable coverage — many for the first time ever," Leitz told reporters.
Computer glitches and long call center waits frustrated many consumers in the first months after the online health care marketplace went live Oct. 1. Leitz said one of their priorities is a better experience for shoppers next time.
Minnesota was one of 14 states plus the District of Columbia that opted to set up their own exchanges instead of sending their citizens into the federal exchange. MNsure's board in October set a goal of 135,000 signups.
Leitz said MNsure will continue its outreach to the "young invincibles," the younger, healthier adults whose participation will be crucial for keeping premium rates affordable. He said efforts to target them in the final days of the inaugural enrollment period paid off, and they'll remain a focus as MNsure develops its marketing campaign for the next open enrollment season, which opens Nov. 15.
In the meantime, Leitz said, many Minnesotans can still use the exchange to enroll. They include people eligible for the public Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs, members of American Indian tribes, small business owners, and people who experience a "life event" such as a change in jobs, marriage or the birth of a child.
Leitz said more than 36,000 people filled out "enrollment attempt" forms just ahead of the deadline to gain more time to complete the process and avoid federal tax penalties. MNsure hasn't determined how many of them filled out the forms as a precaution but managed to enroll, he said, but he expects many will be added to the final tally.
Republicans said the Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats in the Legislature failed to deliver on their promises for the exchange. Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said in a statement that lawmakers were told early last year before they approved the exchange that enrollment could reach as high as 270,000.
Dayton, a Democrat, issued a statement hailing the signup.
"MNsure has made major improvements in its functionality and customer service during the past three months," the Democratic governor said. "More work lies ahead to continue those improvements. However, MNsure has now demonstrated its capacity to improve the lives of many thousands of Minnesotans by offering them access to better health care at more affordable costs."