10,940 have enrolled on Minn.’s health exchange since launch Oct. 1

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 6, 2013 - 9:17 PM

Enrollments nearly tripled between Oct. 14 and Nov. 2. Expectations are for increased enrollment before Dec. 15 deadline.

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Portico navigator Victoria Quiroz worked with a client on the phone, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. Portico has been working since 1995 to help low-income people get publicly funded health care through programs like Medicaid and MinnesotaCare.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Fewer than 11,000 Minnesotans have signed up for health plans using the state’s new insurance exchange, officials said Wednesday, but the pace is accelerating.

The figures almost tripled in the second week of operations as the number of people opening accounts on the MNsure exchange continued to climb and some of the early kinks got worked out of the system.

MNsure leaders said they expect enrollment to rise faster as the Dec. 15 deadline to purchase insurance approaches. Under the most optimistic estimates, the state has projected that 975,000 Minnesotans would use the MNsure website to buy insurance in its first year. By 2016, it aims to attract 1.3 million Minnesotans.

In an afternoon news conference, MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov sought to distinguish the state’s track record from high-profile struggles happening on the federal exchange since the nationwide rollout of the marketplaces Oct. 1.

“We delivered on our promise,” Todd-Malmlov said. “Is it perfect? No, it isn’t.”

About 28,000 individual accounts have been opened, up from 12,000 two weeks ago.

More people are getting into the site and “progressing through the process,” Todd-Malmlov said.

Still, the bulk of the 10,940 plans purchased in the first month are covered through the government-backed health programs of MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance. Just 1,744 people have signed up for private plans.

Sign-ups from small businesses are much lower. Of the small business accounts opened, 17 have completed enrollment and 10 are in process, according to MNsure.

Critics were quick to react to the enrollment numbers.

Ben Golnik, chairman of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, noted that only 16 percent of those buying plans through MNsure had opted for private insurance.

“The numbers released today are a sobering reminder of [Gov.] Mark Dayton’s big gamble with Obamacare in Minnesota,” Golnik said in a statement. “Unless the percentage of those signing up for private insurance through MNsure increases rapidly, Minnesotans will likely see the cost of health insurance continuing to increase.”

Minnesota is one of 14 states plus the District of Columbia that have built their own insurance marketplaces.

To date, the federal government has shouldered the lion’s share of the cost to build MNsure, which has now received $155 million to build the high-tech infrastructure and get the website off the ground.

But starting in 2015, the MNsure operation must become self-sufficient. It would do so through a so-called “premium withhold” that is similar to a tax on the cost of a health plan, which insurers ultimately tacked on to the price consumers pay.

The MNsure board of directors on Wednesday made a key decision to tap insurers for the highest contribution allowed by state law — by withholding 1.5 percent of premium prices — to fund ongoing operations next year.

The unanimous vote by the seven-member board was rife with “what ifs” and talk of contingency plans if enrollment goals come in lower than expected.

Enrollment projections already have been dialed back, with MNsure leaders betting on the low end that 102,000 Minnesotans will purchase private market insurance by the end of 2014.

The amount raised depends both on the number of people who enroll and the premium prices.

While MNsure backers have claimed bragging rights for having some of the lowest premium prices in the nation, it could prove to be something of a disadvantage for making the financing work.

Budget analysts say that if premiums come in on the low end, assumed at $202, and enrollment comes in at the low end, MNsure could collect $3.2 million from the 1.5 percent premium withhold.

Under a best-case scenario — premiums at the high end average of $290 and enrollment higher than expected — insurers would pay $8.6 million.

MNsure would need to cover $1.3 million in ongoing operations, meaning that even under the worst-case scenario the agency has a contingency that board members could live with.

“I feel very confident, given the norms in open enrollment where we are one month into a six-month process,” board director Brian Beutner said after the meeting.

 

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

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