Sign-ups top 90,000 at MNsure; future budget remains cloudy

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MNsure sign-ups continue to grow, but big challenges still exist for the state's health care exchange.

MNsure leaders say more than 90,000 people have signed up for coverage through the exchange since the marketplace opened last October. The Associated Press reports enrollment continues to be weighted more toward public plans over private.

As of Feb. 1, around 28,000 people had enrolled in commercial plans, according to the report. That amounts to about 40 percent of the total private enrollment goal of 70,000 that MNsure hopes to reach by April 1 – the deadline for those without insurance coverage will face federal tax penalties under the Affordable Care Act.

While commercial enrollment is lagging behind projections, enrollment is running ahead in Medical Assistance, according to the AP, which creates a potential problem. The AP says starting next year, private enrollments are supposed to be the main source of MNsure funding.

The report says MNsure board chairman Brian Beutner expressed concerns about the budget. Beutner said the board would need to figure out "what that means in terms of our sustainability and our budget" going forward.

The Star Tribune reports MNsure leaders also announced plans to add up to 100 temporary phone operators in the next month to relieve logjams as the end of open enrollment looms in March.

The board approved spending $750,000 on a three-month contract to hire customer service company APAC, Inc., to help with calls into MNsure's call center. The Star Tribune says the goal is to have 50 people start work within two weeks and up to 50 more "with hands on phones" by the end of the month as the state is expecting many Minnesotans who have put off obtaining health coverage to flock to the marketplace before the deadline.

The newspaper reports MNsure's chief operating officer, Erik Larson, said some of the issues call center operators are dealing with are easing because the site is "working much more effectively," with average wait times of between 7 to 14 minutes this week. However, some callers are still reporting wait times of up to an hour.

Last month, Optum conducted an independent review of MNsure's website and call center. It found the call center was inefficient and suggested MNsure double its number of call center employees.

The Star Tribune reports MNsure interim CEO Scott Leitz says ramping up call center staff would help the exchange get closer to industry standards, which requires wait times of under one minute for 85 percent of callers.

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