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Deadline in sight, MNsure warns uninsured to be in line or face penalty

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If Minnesotans without health insurance can demonstrate that technical problems at MNsure prevented them from obtaining insurance by the March 31 deadline, they might be able to avoid a federal tax penalty.

The Pioneer Press reported health exchange officials emphasized that the deadline to obtain coverage under the Affordable Care Act remains March 31, but there are specific cases that could shield people from having to pay the penalty – so long as they eventually finalize their coverage.

The Wall Street Journal explained Minnesota is among the states that have expressed concern technical problems, glitches and delays could slow down the sign-up process, especially if a surge of enrollees clogs the site in the final days. On Monday, Minnesota said it would extend a completion deadline for anyone who starts the process of enrolling in a plan by midnight on March 31 but doesn't finish it. The Star Tribune characterized the flexibility as an approach that will be extended "to those making a good-faith effort to buy coverage when the clock strikes midnight that night."

"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.

The leeway doesn't apply to people who begin trying to sign up for a plan after the deadline. Leitz said applicants will have to prove they tried to sign up to be eligible for flexibility.

For example, if an application gets hung up in the portion of the MNsure website that determines whether someone qualifies for financial assistance, consumers won't be penalized if the glitch doesn't get resolved by month's end.

Monday's announcement was not instigated by an increase in MNsure website snags.

"The site is functioning well and is continuing to make the improvements," Leitz said during the conference call. Even so, Leitz said, there could be cases where people can't get through the system by the deadline "through no fault of their own."

Depending on income levels, the penalty could be either $95 or 1 percent of annual income. The uninsured will also be required to pay the full amount of a medical bill if they get sick or injured. Those who fail to enroll in a plan by the deadline will be locked out of insurance coverage until next January at the earliest, unless they are poor or face specific circumstances.

More than 130,000 Minnesotans have signed up for coverage using the MNsure website.

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