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MNsure "off to a smooth start" as open enrollment goes live

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MNsure officials have said the launch of this year's open enrollment health insurance exchange has gone smoothly.

MNsure spokesman Joe Campbell told WCCO that there has been no major issues reported with the website and people have already successfully enrolled in health plans, in contrast to last year.

Campbell also told the broadcaster that waiting times for the MNsure call center were under a minute.

MNsure is now accepting enrollments after the web and phone systems went live at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.

Last fall during the initial open enrollment period, users complained of website glitches and long hold times that lasted more than an hour when they called for assistance.

Those glitches made it difficult to submit an application. WCCO noted that by December there were more than 20,000 applications stuck in limbo.

A recent report conducted by the Legislative Auditor was critical of MNsure. The audit found some Minnesotans who signed up for public health care programs through the exchange received benefits they weren't eligible for.

Officials expected this year's open enrollment period to go more smoothly.

MNsure is Minnesota's online health insurance exchange. The marketplace was authorized under the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance.

"We have learned a lot since last year about how people enroll in health insurance coverage through MNsure," said CEO Scott Leitz, in a statement. "We're hopeful this information will alleviate some common frustrations Minnesotans experienced last year."

The biggest change affects the MNsure call center. The Pioneer Press reports call-center staffing has been beefed up, from 22 people last year to nearly 300 now.

Officials tell the newspaper the exchange also has a revamped homepage with page-load times that are nearly five times faster. Officials also say there was more time built in for testing the site.

According to the Star Tribune, Leitz said MNsure has fared better repairing the glitches before consumers start using the site. He added that a "black hole" where more than 2,000 applications got lost last year has largely been eliminated.

Leitz estimates enrollment this time around should take 20-30 minutes – significantly less than enrollment times that reached an hour in some cases last year.

"We think our experience will be greatly improved over what it was last year," Leitz said at a press conference on Friday.

MNsure still has a budget challenge it will have to figure out. The program was funded with $155 million in federal grants, but the exchange is supposed to become financially self-sufficient in 2015.

To accomplish that officials hope to nearly double the number of private health plan signups this year. Those private sign-ups are important because a portion of the premiums are collected by the exchange.

The Pioneer Press notes currently about 85 percent of the 371,000 signups receive public health assistance through Medical Assistance or Minnesota Care.

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