About 100,000 people with individual health insurance policies can still sign up for coverage that starts in January, even though the general enrollment deadline came earlier this month.

On Wednesday, the state's MNsure health insurance exchange started prominently publicizing the "special enrollment" option with e-mails to insurance agents and notices on its website.

It is generally available to those with individual market health plans that are being terminated for 2017 — about 94,000 subscribers at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and some 8,500 people with HealthPartners coverage, according to an estimate from the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

"Now that we've passed the December 15, 2016 deadline for January 1, 2017 coverage, it's important to know that those who experience a loss of qualifying health care coverage may have until December 31 to enroll in coverage effective January 1, 2017," MNsure said in an e-mail to insurance agents sent Wednesday afternoon.

General open enrollment in the individual market is ongoing, but those shoppers who purchase between now and Jan. 31 won't see the start of coverage until February or March. Those who qualify for special enrollment can sign up for January coverage up until Dec. 31, whereas the general deadline for January coverage was Dec. 15.

"It was a top priority for MNsure to push the December 15th deadline first, and then switch our focus to this specific special enrollment after that deadline had passed," said Marie Harmon, a MNsure spokeswoman, in a statement.

The special enrollment period applies to more than one-third of the state's individual market, where about 250,000 people buy coverage.

It's the market for self-employed people and those who don't receive health benefits from their employer or a government program.

The market has undergone fundamental changes with the federal Affordable Care Act.

Health insurers across the country have struggled to make the business profitable under the new rules, and have scaled back their 2017 offerings as a result.

In Minnesota, Blue Cross withdrew its non-HMO health plans from the market for 2017, while HealthPartners pulled policies from dozens of counties beyond the Twin Cities and St. Cloud areas.

Those are the customers who now qualify for special enrollment.

MNsure says it previously focused publicity on the Dec. 15 deadline because most insurers in the market have enrollment caps, which means coverage slots could have disappeared.

Earlier this week, insurance agents with LeClair Group in Woodbury started spreading the word about special enrollment.

"Thousands losing coverage are eligible," the agency said in an e-mail sent Monday. "Everyone losing coverage due to the cancellation of their insurance have [a special enrollment period] that has broader re-enrollment opportunities than the general public."

People who buy individual coverage can purchase directly from health insurers, or can enroll through MNsure where they might also qualify for income-based tax credits.

The exchange has more information on its website about how people qualify for special enrollment.

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck