Deadline dash pushes MNsure enrollment past 169,000

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Consumers raced to sign up for health coverage through Minnesota's new health insurance exchange by Monday night's deadline and MNsure officials worked to get as many of those people signed up as possible.

At the end of the day, they came in 35,000 above their enrollment goal.

As of April 1, 169,251 people had signed up through MNsure, far more than the enrollment goal of 135,000 (which the exchange passed last week). Of those who signed up, about 47,000 signed up for a private coverage plan, 34,200 for Minnesota Care and almost 88,000 for Medical Assistance. Although few small businesses signed up for the program, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal says.

Over 36,000 consumers who attempted to enroll, but could not complete the process due to technical problems, filled out a form that indicated they weren't able to enroll by the deadline, which puts people in line to avoid a penalty. Because of this, enrollment numbers are expected to rise, the Star Tribune says.

“We sort of liken it to if you are standing in line to vote and the polls close but you are still able to go ahead and vote,” said Scott Leitz, MNsure’s interim chief executive, last week.

It's not known how many of Minnesota's 400,000 uninsured signed up for coverage, but MNsure officials said they'll have numbers later in the month, the Pioneer Press said.

Officials touted the preliminary enrollment numbers as a major turnaround for the program, the Pioneer Press says, about 35 percent of all enrollments took place in the final month of the enrollment campaign.

Enrollment numbers will also rise as MNsure works with the people who are waiting for a decision on their eligibility or who attempted to apply, but were unable to due to website glitches or long wait times with call centers, which have plagued the program from the beginning.

And it was no different in the final hours of the enrollment period. MNsure staff were flooded with requests for help Monday – the deadline to have health insurance under the recent health care reforms, or face a penalty.

According to WCCO, the call center had received 17,000 calls by 4 p.m., keeping the lines busy and making it difficult for some potential purchasers to reach an agent. The average wait time was about 20 minutes; longer than the exchange said it had been last week, but still far less than December when some people were on the phone more than an hour, WCCO reports.

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The Star Tribune described the MNsure website as "bogged down" through much of Monday. It started around noon, the paper reports, when the federal system that checks if people in Minnesota are eligible for tax credits and other public programs began suffering from glitches.

With the assortment of technical problems, some relied on the old-fashioned pen-and-paper method.

KTTC spoke with Colleen Hansen, a MNsure navigator who helped applicants get a plan purchased in-person Monday. She'd been using the site to help people sign up, she told the station. But around 11 a.m. the site began having trouble and not loading. So she switched to hard copies.

In Rochester, KIMT said people "flocked" to the three different locations set up to get enrollment help.

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In a health coverage deadline Q&A, Forum News Service notes missing this deadline means a person can be stuck without health insurance for months. The next open enrollment period doesn’t begin until Nov. 15.

There are a few exceptions though, the paper adds. A life event – such as a job loss or new child – allows the opportunity to buy coverage before that open enrollment date. Enrollment for small business, Indian tribe members, and those eligible for Medicaid and MinnesotaCare programs is year-round.

A person without health insurance now faces an income-based financial penalty: Either $95 per adult for the year, or 1 percent of yearly household income, whichever is greater. The healthcare site notes paying that fee doesn’t mean you’re covered. If you have medical bills, you’re still on the hook for all of those costs. In the coming years, the penalty for not having insurance increases: to $325 per person or 2 percent of annual income in 2015, then $695 or 2.5 percent the year after that.

Minnesota is one of 14 states (plus Washington D.C.) that chose to operate its own health insurance exchange, WCCO notes.

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