MNsure: As clock strikes 12, some are insured, others are in limbo

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 1, 2014 - 12:10 PM

Deadline for Jan. 1 coverage comes and goes, with many still on hold.

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Call center guide Christy Williamson worked the phones on the final day for people to sign up for MNsure.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Wednesday marks a “new day” for thousands of Minnesotans who acquired health insurance through MNsure — whether they know it or not.

While many Minnesotans are enjoying the certainty of coverage they obtained through the state’s online insurance exchange for 2014, others reached the stroke of midnight Tuesday night with no clue whether their enrollments had been completed or whether they have medical benefits today.

As of late last week, more than 50,000 people had completed applications to buy private health plans on MNsure but had not completed enrollment — leaving their status in health insurance limbo.

In some cases, technical problems with the MNsure site prevented them from finishing their enrollment. MNsure’s Facebook page was cluttered Tuesday with exasperated people who couldn’t get the online exchange to work ahead of Tuesday’s deadline and couldn’t reach anyone on the telephone hot line.

“3½ hours on hold,” wrote Amanda Rutherford of Crystal around noon Tuesday. “Unfortunately, I have to now hang up without resolution because I’m off of work. And start ALL over …”

“I’ve been trying for TWELVE DAYS to get access to my locked account,” wrote Matthew Ostman, 28, of St. Michael. “No e-mails answer, no success getting through on the phone.”

“Why oh why do you hate us so much, MN Sure?” lamented Jamie Ward, 29, of East Bethel.

MNsure officials have apologized for the problems with their ambitious start-up exchange — launched this fall under the federal Affordable Care Act to improve insurance options for the sick and uninsured in Minnesota — and sought to extend benefits to anyone who has made a good-faith effort to enroll. While consumers still have until March 31 to buy coverage in the open-enrollment period, state officials pressed to enroll as many people as possible by the end of 2013 so they would have benefits immediately at the start of 2014.

“Our aim is to get everyone into health insurance coverage on January 1st who wants it on January 1st,” said Scott Leitz, MNsure’s interim CEO, in an interview before Tuesday night’s deadline. “If that means getting them through the system electronically, that’s great. But if it also means working them through in a manual way so that we get them into initial coverage, we’re doing that as well.”

Consumers who have reached the stage of enrolling in plans and making initial payments will be covered, whether they have received cards from their insurance carriers or not, according to a MNsure tip sheet released Tuesday night.

The status of people with incomplete enrollments wasn’t as clear. MNsure officials have been trying to secure timely benefits for people whose enrollments have been delayed by glitches in the application process. But the tip sheet indicated that MNsure “couldn’t guarantee” Jan. 1 coverage for them.

Despite enrollment delays, doctors and other care providers are assuring patients that they will treat them first, then figure out if they have insurance to cover it second.

“If a patient needs to get taken care of, we’re going to take care of that patient and worry about the [insurance] eligibility after the fact,” said Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, a dermatologist and president of the Minnesota Medical Association.

Retail pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS Caremark also announced plans to fill prescriptions for customers who are uncertain whether they have obtained insurance coverage on the federal or state exchanges.

The great mystery

MNsure was created with the ultimate goal of covering the roughly 490,000 Minnesotans without insurance and improving benefits for people with illnesses or disabilities who have been denied affordable coverage by insurers in the past.

The state exchange started with more modest goals for 2014, though, including enrolling 69,904 people in private health plans by the March 31 open enrollment deadline and providing many of them with tax credits to lower their premium costs.

As of Dec. 27, some 19,420 people had enrolled via MNsure in private market plans.

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