MNsure’s Year 2 deadline has smoother start

Published 4:17 pm Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ST. PAUL — A key deadline Wednesday capped a smoother start — though it wasn’t perfect — for the second year of the state health insurance exchange.

MNsure officials said the website was stable and call wait times remained short as Minnesota residents rushed to beat the noon deadline to get coverage that starts today. It was a marked change from MNsure last year, when long wait times and a crash-prone site frustrated consumers.

But problems on the back end have persisted, adding to the workload of MNsure and insurance companies alike.

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“While not perfect, it is much better than last year,” said Eileen Smith, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, a trade group for insurers. “There are still some real fundamental things that need attention.”

Among them is a long-standing problem of sending insurance companies the enrollment data they need to register consumers and send out invoices and ID cards. Some insurance companies said in mid-December they still hadn’t received the files and openly worried they wouldn’t have enough time to mail out ID cards by Jan. 1.

It’s supposed to be an automatic process, but Smith said insurance companies have spent “hundreds and hundreds of hours” handling the data manually, combing through for duplicates and errors.

“With all the time and energy that went into having to fix the … public side, the backend side didn’t have the focus that it needed to improve by leaps and bounds,” she said.

Several insurance companies said they’ve started receiving those files, but many Minnesota residents still may not receive proof of insurance in time. MNsure and the Council of Health Plans say consumers should contact their insurance company for help. Hospitals and clinics may be able to verify coverage for those who have paid the first-month premium.

About 200 to 700 consumers may have faced larger costs upfront due to an error calculating tax credits. But MNsure spokesman Joe Campbell said the exchange sorted out the issue last month, and MNsure has vowed to “make whole” anyone who paid a month’s premium at sticker price.

The easier start to open enrollment helped the exchange glide past signup numbers from last year: About 59,000 Minnesotans had signed up for coverage as of their latest enrollment update Friday, including more than 26,000 in private plans.

As a surge of last-minute signups rolled in, Smith noted MNsure was still far behind its target of enrolling 67,000 private plans — a crucial number because the exchange funds its operations by skimming fees off monthly premiums. Open enrollment lasts through Feb. 15.

MNsure expects to give a post-Dec. 31 deadline enrollment update next week.