With MNsure's call centers choked with long wait times and the website still buggy, officials on Monday released a set of tips to help consumers avoid problems when using the new online health insurance exchange.
Some of the most common issues arise when people put an extra space when typing in their phone numbers, use an incompatible browser or add their full middle names instead of using an initial, the agency said.
"Some of the problems people are facing are due to software issues that we are actively working on and will be resolving in the near future, but some of the issues can be resolved at the consumer level by following these tips," MNsure interim CEO Scott Leitz said.
With the clock ticking on a newly extended Dec. 31 deadline, MNsure officials said Monday that the agency continues to ramp up staff to resolve technical problems and help consumers get through the process.
The Department of Human Services, which has long operated its own call center for those covered by public health plans, is now taking overflow traffic from MNsure. Wait times were "under an hour" as of 1 p.m. Monday, officials said. On Friday, consumers reported waiting as long as two hours.
Meanwhile, workers are still processing some 2,500 paper application forms and using manual processes to communicate with insurance companies.
For consumers still wrestling with the website, the software that handles the application process and helps determine eligibility for federal tax credits remains the key source of trouble.
IBM/Curam, the MNsure subcontractor responsible for those pieces, has brought in 80 to 100 new workers to address the continuing issues. MNsure struck a separate "zero-cost contract" with IBM, which committed an additional 4,000 hours until the end of the year. MNsure spokesman John Schadl said it will not come at additional cost to taxpayers.
Gov. Mark Dayton scheduled a private afternoon conference call with Leitz, who took over when Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov resigned last week amid the bumpy rollout. Todd-Malmlov, who had led the state in its effort to build its own exchange for more than two years, was not given a severance package, MNsure spokesman John Reich said.
A spokesman for Dayton said the governor plans another meeting Friday to stay updated on IBM's progress solving technical issues.
MNsure hired the lead contractor, Reston, Va.-based Maximus, with a $46 million federal grant. It has paid Maximus a little more than $25.4 million to date, MNsure officials said. MNsure board members last week began raising questions about the ability of the vendors to get the job done, but deferred a more in-depth discussion until next month.
The consumer tip sheet, which also is posted on the MNsure.org site, contains similar information that operators at the call-in center use "for triage," Reich said.
The tips cover such items as creating a password (make it eight characters of letters, numbers and special characters); not abbreviating "Street" or "Avenue," and what to do if you hit an "Internal Server Error" (clear your cache or change browsers). Also: Don't use a cellphone or tablet — you need a computer or laptop to sign up.
The Dec. 31 deadline applies to those who need insurance coverage to begin on Jan. 1. The open enrollment period continues through March 31, which is the true drop-dead date for procrastinators.
After that, consumers will not be able to purchase insurance coverage until the fall, and will face a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of household income, whatever is greater.
Insurers have agreed to accept premium payments through Jan. 10, and any medical claims accrued after the first of the year will be covered retroactively. But the funds must be received by MNsure or the insurer by Jan. 10 to ensure coverage.
"Can't be, 'in the mail,' can't be 'I meant to send it,' " Reich said. "It has to be in our doors or in the carriers' doors on the 10th."
Most consumers will not have ID cards and enrollment materials due to the short time crunch, but officials reiterated that coverage will be retroactive, assuming consumers have met the other requirements.