Deadline looms to sign up for health coverage without penalty

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2014 - 11:52 AM

Those eligible have three weeks left to enroll without penalty

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Halimo Khalif, 40, gave a thumbs up as she got assistance from navigator Mary Pargo while signing up for MNsure before month’s end.

Photo: DAVID JOLES • djoles@startribune.com,

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With just a few weeks remaining before the gate closes on Minnesotans’ ability to buy health insurance for 2014, a full-court press is underway to sign people up for coverage.

Health fairs are being held at schools, churches, libraries and community centers. Signs are plastered on billboards and city buses. And a steady drum beat of reminders are going out on radio, TV, Facebook and Twitter, as insurance leaders and social service agencies work feverishly to break through confusion and apathy to get people insured before the end of March.

“We’ve turned up the volume up to 11,” cracked MNsure interim CEO Scott Leitz, who announced a “March to Enroll” campaign last week of more than 650 sign-up activities statewide.

The urgency comes as a bevy of surveys indicate that as many as three-quarters of uninsured Americans remain in the dark about the approaching March 31 deadline, after which people will face penalties if they lack coverage.

Many people don’t realize they won’t get another chance to buy insurance until November, even if they want to.

“Not a lot of attention has been paid to that,” said Dannette Coleman, a Medica vice president. “We think that message is critical and a bigger motivator to get health insurance coverage than a $95 penalty.”

The crunch has started

The crunch has already started on the front lines. At an enrollment event last week in the gym at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis, a dozen people waited an hour or more for the chance to work with a certified MNsure navigator.

Halimo Khalif, who was No. 11 in line, said she didn’t mind the wait. Originally from Somalia, she lost her health insurance when she got laid off from a job she’d held for nine years. She started the sign up process on MNsure on her own, but got confused and created multiple accounts.

“I tried to do it myself, but it didn’t work,” said Khalif, 40.

But soon, she and navigator Mary Pargo were looking at a laptop computer and cheering.

The fair was one of five to be held this month around Minneapolis through Pillsbury United Communities, which brings in multilingual navigators.

More than 113,000 Minnesotans have bought coverage through MNsure, the state’s online insurance exchange. But that lags far behind original estimates, in part because the website was crippled by chronic technical issues during a key sign-up period from late November to the end of December.

Now, the pressure is on to make the next three weeks count.

Of the 490,000 uninsured Minnesotans, about 60 percent are eligible for public programs, and tens of thousands more are eligible for tax credits available only through the MNsure website.

MNsure officials are relying mostly on an army of insurance brokers and nearly 1,400 certified navigators to reach across the far corners of the state in the weeks ahead. Its radio and TV campaign soon will begin underscoring the March 31 deadline.

MNsure troubleshooters also are working through a backlog of people whose problems may have started when the site was hobbled late last year. Most people who run into complex problems now will get a call from MNsure within 24 to 48 hours to complete the sign-up process, Leitz said.

‘No Regrets’

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  • Halimo Khalif got help while signing up for MNsure Friday at the Brian Coyle Community Center. The deadline to get coverage is March 31. The next chance to enroll will be in November of this year.

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