Glitches, delays have stopped many from buying health plans.
While more than 12,000 Minnesotans have created MNsure accounts, fewer than one-third of those have completed enrollment in health plans, state officials said Wednesday.
The meager sales figures didn’t alarm MNsure officials — not when Minnesotans still have two months to secure coverage for the start of 2014. But they do reflect the turbulent first two weeks of an online health insurance marketplace that aspires to extend health benefits to as many of the state’s 490,000 uninsured residents as possible.
Since the MNsure website was launched Oct. 1 as part of federal health reforms, accounts have been created by 12,011 people — some with chronic illnesses and a desperate need for health insurance. Only 5,569 of those have finished applications, with 3,769 enrolling in various plans. And only 406 have completed the purchase of private plans on the site; most were eligible for public programs such as Medicaid.
MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov said that the early figures were ahead of her expectations and that she expects that procrastinating enrollees will sign up before the Dec. 15 deadline for coverage on Jan. 1.
“Even during employer open-enrollment periods, most people enroll in the last two days before the open enrollment period ends,” she said.
The gap between accounts created and health plans purchased so far may reflect the number of people who have just been “window shopping,” as MNsure spokesman John Reich put it, and who need time to make the weighty decision of buying insurance.
But it also reflects a website and an enrollment system that have suffered “a hiccup or two.”
Problems with security verification early on prevented half of the people who visited MNsure from creating accounts. Now, MNsure reports that more than nine of 10 people are successful, but that other glitches have needed fixes and that certain Web browsers are causing headaches.
“It’s only going to get better,” Reich said at a MNsure public forum Tuesday night.
Mitch Grussing of St. Paul told the board Wednesday that he “got the impression that the site wasn’t really even done yet” when he tried and failed to sign up on the first day.
The 27-year-old was successful on the second day, though. Private insurers had denied him affordable coverage in the past, he said, because he has obsessive compulsive disorder and takes a routine generic medication.
“It’s done its job,” he said, “at least for me.”
For others, start-up problems were enough to turn them away.
Sharon Anderson logged on to MNsure last week because her small business, GMI Travel of Minneapolis, urgently needs a new health plan. The company was dropped by its current insurer, apparently because all six employees are women in their 40s, Anderson said in an interview last week.
“We’re six healthy women. None of us smoke. And nobody wants us. It’s frustrating.”
A first attempt at creating an account was successful, and Anderson uploaded her employees and started shopping for health plans. But she could never get back to that point, and she finally gave up after confronting too many error messages.