ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota's health insurance marketplace on Friday extended by one week its deadline for signing up for coverage that takes effect on the first of the new year.
Scott Leitz, the new interim CEO of MNsure, said that the original Monday deadline has been extended to Dec. 31. That means people will be able to enroll right up to the day before the insurance takes effect. In addition, Leitz said people will have until Jan. 10 to pay for their coverage.
The step reflects ongoing challenges MNsure has had in enrolling people efficiently under the new federal health care law. In recent weeks, the MNsure website has been inoperable for long stretches; callers to a toll-free helpline have experienced waits in excess of an hour; and insurance companies have complained that data from MNsure about enrollees have been plagued with errors and inconsistencies. About 1,000 people had to re-enroll after being notified they didn't qualify for federal tax subsidies when they actually did.
"We are aware of the concerns many consumers have as we approach Jan. 1, and we are taking critical steps to ensure that Minnesotans have comprehensive, affordable health coverage when they need it," Leitz said. The former assistant state human services commissioner stepped into the job Wednesday, after the abrupt resignation of April Todd-Malmlov, who led the effort to build MNsure but had faced growing criticism over its problems.
People who don't finish the enrollment process until the last few days of December won't have insurance cards or other enrollment materials when their coverage starts Jan. 1, but MNsure is promising that any medical care will be covered nonetheless. Leitz said Friday in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio that the agency was working on ways that those people could validate their coverage with doctors and hospitals.
MNsure is also stressing the importance of the Jan. 10 payment deadline. Payments must arrive by close of business that day, the agency said, or medical care received between Jan. 1 and Jan. 10 will not be covered and the enrollees won't have insurance coverage effective until Feb. 1.
The application and enrollment functions at MNsure.org are now available between 6 a.m. and midnight every day. MNsure's call center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The agency has more than doubled its call-center staff in recent days, and IBM — one of MNsure's main technology contractors — has loaned 80 additional workers to crunch technical problems.
MNsure's struggles have been fodder in the state's political arena. On Thursday, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton apologized to Minnesotans who have struggled to enroll. On Friday, Republican state Sen. Karin Housley — who is considering her own run for governor next year — said Dayton should call an immediate special legislative session so lawmakers can address MNsure's problems.