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MNsure call center swamped as deadline approached

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With just a few hours left to sign up for health insurance through MNsure, Minnesota's new online insurance marketplace, harried workers at MNsure's call center were busy fielding calls from frustrated shoppers through the day Tuesday.

MPR News noted that callers Tuesday overwhelmed the MNsure contact center, which has a capacity of 300 calls at any one time.

Consumers had until midnight Tuesday to select a plan and a payment method for coverage that takes effect Wednesday. Individual consumers have until Jan. 15 to enroll for coverage effective Feb. 1.

Consumers have until March 31 to obtain coverage and avoid a penalty under the federal health care law, MPR notes. The federal Affordable Care Act requires almost all Americans to have health coverage.

MNsure's website has been dogged by problems that have surfaced since its Oct. 1 launch. MNsure staffers are continuing to work with contractors to troubleshoot technology issues with the system, KARE 11 reported Tuesday night.

As of late last week, more than 50,000 people had filled out applications to buy private health plans through MNsure but had not finished their enrollment, leaving them in limbo approaching the midnight Tuesday deadline, the Star Tribune reported. Only about 19,400 had actually enrolled via MNsure in private market plans as of Dec. 27, the newspaper reported.

On Tuesday, long call wait times, coupled with technical issues that users were having, left many last-minute would-be enrollees frustrated and ultimately wondering if they had insurance on Wednesday.

A number of irked would-be consumers took to MNsure's Facebook page to complain. Among the comments:

"Oooh the thrill of being CUT OFF AFTER BEING ON HOLD FOR 3 HOURS!!!!! This is not worth any of this nonsense!"

"come on fix that website... can't sign in.. and phone no. (1 855 366 7873) is not working too...hope u guys are not chilling in Bahamas..."

"This is stressing me out to the MAX, I may need mental heath care after getting through this! HELPME, HELPME, HELPME, HELPME, HELPME, HELPME, HELPME, HELPME."

MNsure says its call center will be open again Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What's going to happen Wednesday and beyond, when people start trying to obtain health care after they tried – and may have failed – to obtain insurance through MNsure? The Pioneer Press reports that hospitals, pharmacies, doctors and insurance companies are taking steps to make sure patients get needed care, even if their insurance status is still not clear.

MNsure officials had hoped that, ultimately, nearly 500,000 Minnesotans without insurance would enroll for a plan through MNsure.

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