The volume of new MNsure customers is off compared with last year, and state officials think the busy sign-up period for Medicare health plans is a key reason why.
Through the first two weeks of November, MNsure saw 2,379 new enrollees for 2019 coverage, a tally that's roughly half the 4,700 people who newly signed up during the comparable period last year.
About 40 percent of all people who buy coverage through the state's health insurance exchange do so with the help of an insurance agent, MNsure said, but those brokers have been helping more than 300,000 people currently covered by Medicare Cost plans who must find replacement coverage for next year.
"We really believe that a lot of our enrollment is being delayed," said Nate Clark, the MNsure chief executive, in an interview. "A lot of our enrollment activity is driven by brokers, and our brokers are really busy working with those Cost plan subscribers and migrating them into new Medicare options."
After factoring automatic coverage renewals for the coming year, more than 97,000 people have enrolled in private health plans through MNsure since the start of open enrollment, Clark said, which is about 7 percent ahead of the comparable figure last year of more than 91,000 people.
MNsure is a government-run website where self-employed people and those who don't get coverage from their employer can buy individual health insurance policies from private carriers. Minnesota launched the MNsure exchange in 2014 as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, which provides income-based subsidies to people who buy individual coverage.
The MNsure budget anticipates that about 10,700 people will newly enroll in coverage for 2019, and a similar number will drop coverage over the course of the year.
"We're looking at [enrollment] remaining flat from 2018 year-end to 2019 year-end," a spokeswoman said Thursday via e-mail.
The MNsure sign-up period started Nov. 1, about two weeks after the beginning of an unusually volatile open-enrollment season for Medicare beneficiaries in Minnesota. More than 300,000 people in Medicare Cost plans must pick new replacement coverage for 2019 due to a federal law that is eliminating the popular type of coverage across 66 counties.
Open enrollment for Medicare beneficiaries runs through Dec. 7. The deadline for Jan. 1 coverage via MNsure is Dec. 15, and the health exchange open enrollment extends until Jan. 13 for people who want coverage starting Feb. 1.
"We don't look at this and think that the market is soft, or that we're underperforming," Clark said of the decline in new enrollees. "We're looking at this and saying we've got strong pickup out of the gate, and it's just growing. That new customer number is growing every day."
He added: "What our folks have been telling us — the brokers we work with — is that their calendars are full, but they're expecting to get to it toward the end of this month and then that final two or three week push in December."