Like the MNsure exchange, private health insurers have extended the deadline for individuals and families to buy coverage that starts in January.

On Saturday, the state's health insurance exchange announced it was pushing back until Dec. 28 the deadline for enrollment in individual market coverage that starts Jan. 1.

Eagan-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota said Monday that it would push back its deadline to Dec. 28 for people who buy policies directly from the company, rather than through the government-run exchange.

Bloomington-based HealthPartners and Minnetonka-based Medica said they will take applications until Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, MNsure reported that more people are buying policies and calling the exchange with questions. On Monday, the exchange received more than 2,600 calls by noon, with 53 percent of them answered in under five minutes, said MNsure spokesman Shane Delaney in an e-mail.

"Enrollment activity is picking up," Delaney wrote. "Call volumes are increasing and, as a result, wait times are naturally increasing."

About 300,000 people were covered by policies last year in Minnesota's individual market, which covers people who don't get insurance from an employer or the government. About 80 percent of individual market enrollees at the time were buying in the off-exchange market, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

MNsure's share of the overall individual market is low compared to the exchanges in most other states, but premium jumps for 2016 are expected to drive more shoppers to MNsure, since it's the only place to tap federal tax credits.

"Blue Cross has aligned our off-exchange deadline with MNsure's on-exchange deadline of December 28," said Jim McManus, a Blue Cross spokesman, in a statement. "We believe consistency in sign-up times plays a big part in reducing any confusion that may exist out in the marketplace."

Blue Cross was the largest carrier in the individual market during 2014 with about 143,000 enrollees, according to the health department, and picked up more enrollees this year.

At Medica, people signing up for coverage on Dec. 31 won't have a member ID card by Jan. 1, said spokesman Greg Bury, but they would be in the insurer's computer system. "Coverage would be in place," Bury said in a statement.

At HealthPartners, consumer interest in both MNsure and off-exchange policies has been "a little higher this year," wrote spokesman Daniel Foss in an e-mail.

"We're extending our individual enrollment deadline to Dec. 31 to give consumers more time," Foss added.

Golden Valley-based PreferredOne also sells individual policies, but a company spokesman did not respond to an e-mail Monday.

As of Sunday, MNsure reported 26,532 sign-ups in private insurance policies through the exchange, including 18,595 new enrollees. The overall sign-up tally is up by more than 8,800 people in a five-day period, and the new enrollee figure is up by 6,415 people.

Open enrollment in the individual market started Nov. 1 and ends Jan. 31. People who buy in January will have policies that start in either February or March.

Minnesota launched the MNsure exchange as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

Penalties for lacking coverage will increase in 2016. Earlier this month, the California-based Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that the average penalty would increase 47 percent to $969. Actual tax penalties vary with income.

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck