MNsure racing to open enrollment

Published 9:58 am Thursday, November 6, 2014

ST. PAUL — With open enrollment just 10 days away, officials racing to get Minnesota’s health insurance exchange ready for its second act said Wednesday that there are risks ahead and they’ll need all the remaining time for final testing.

Jesse Oman, assistant commissioner with the state information technology agency MN.IT, gave the MNsure board its final update on system readiness before open enrollment begins Nov. 15.

“This is a high-risk project from Day One and remains a high-risk project and will be so until we go live,” Oman said. “… All of our resources at this point are 24/7, heads down, focused on being able to deliver a quality product and the best consumer experience that we can.”

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MNsure got off to a rocky start in its inaugural open enrollment period last year due to serious technical glitches, though it helped reduce the ranks of Minnesota’s uninsured by an estimated 40 percent. About 365,000 people have enrolled in coverage since last October to comply with the mandates of the federal Affordable Care Act. Most qualified for the publicly funded Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs for lower-income people, but the customers also included nearly 56,000 people who enrolled in plans through private insurance carriers via MNsure. Getting them to re-enroll is a major focus of the upcoming campaign.

Brian Keane of Deloitte Consulting, which MNsure brought in to fix the system earlier this year, said the extensive testing before and after a new release of computer code in a few days will have to continue right up until when consumers start comparison shopping again.

“We’re optimistic at this point that we can get through that, but there’s just no guarantee,” Keane said.

MNsure officials are stressing the message that consumers shouldn’t simply allow their carriers to automatically renew them in their old plans, which will happen if they do nothing. CEO Scott Leitz told the board those consumers should all return to the MNsure website during open enrollment “for one simple reason — to get the best deal possible.”

PreferredOne, which landed 59 percent of sign-ups in private plans last time around with some of the lowest premiums in the country, has pulled out of the exchange for 2015, which means most consumers are expected to pay more next year. But Leitz said new plans with new options will be available, and more people will qualify for tax credits to help defray the costs.

“Taking some time to shop and compare is critical,” said Allison O’Toole, MNsure’s deputy director for external relations.