Comopsia Stanley was anxious as she watched the middle-aged man in a parka stride across the parking lot toward her car.
Was this actually the same man with the soft voice who, just hours earlier, had called and promised to buy insulin for her diabetic son after reading about her family in the newspaper? Was this the man who had asked to meet here, outside a Home Depot in St. Louis Park?
Then he reached into his coat and pulled out $350 in cash — enough to buy a month’s supply of insulin for her 11-year-old son, Demarco. “All he said was, ‘Take care of your son.’ ” Stanley said. “I now know what an angel looks like.”
Stanley’s story, first reported in the Star Tribune on Wednesday, illustrates the ordeal faced by thousands of low-income Minnesotans who have tried to use MNsure, the state’s new online health insurance marketplace, to apply for Medical Assistance. Like many others, Stanley found that her application for public health coverage got stuck in computer purgatory after many counties directed clients starting Jan. 1 to apply on MNsure rather than on paper. Overnight, the state’s most vulnerable populations — the poor, elderly and disabled — were expected to navigate a MNsure computer system plagued with glitches and delays.
“We’ve been approaching [MNsure] from a systems perspective and losing sight of the impact it is having on real people,” said Ralonda Mason, a supervising attorney for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid in St. Cloud.
State officials report significant progress in fixing MNsure. They have managed to retrieve most of the applications that were lost in the website’s infamous “black hole;” as of Thursday, just 141 applications were stuck there, down from 1,100 at the end of the year, according to the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Officials at DHS also have stressed that they’re still accepting applications on paper. This week, DHS issued its second news release in less than a month emphasizing that people wary of the MNsure website can submit paper applications by mail and in person to the DHS offices in St. Paul.
As for Stanley, she learned late Wednesday that her application for Medical Assistance has been approved. Though gratified, the Fridley resident was still bitter that she had to rely on the generosity of a stranger to get lifesaving medication for her son.
“They have to fix these computer problems soon,” she warned, “before someone dies.”