With less than a week to go until the end of open enrollment, MNsure officials said Tuesday that the new online insurance exchange has enrolled 136,774 people, exceeding a goal set in October to help 135,000 Minnesotans acquire coverage.
The announcement comes as the state makes its final push to get people enrolled in coverage by Monday.
"We are thrilled that more than 136,000 Minnesotans have enrolled in quality, affordable coverage through MNsure," interim CEO Scott Leitz said in a statement. "We're not done yet. There are six days left in open enrollment and we want to make sure every Minnesotan has the ability to obtain health insurance coverage."
Minnesotans who have not bought insurance coverage by the end of business on March 31 could face penalties. They also will be on the hook for any medical bills that come up between now and January, unless their insurance changes for some reason. That can include moving to a new state, changing jobs, getting married or divorced, or having a baby.
MNsure officials announced Monday that the agency would provide flexibility on the deadline in certain situations — where a person has made a "good-faith" effort to enroll by the deadline, but was prevented by technical problems from completing an application. Consumers would need to have some effort of proof that they were attempting to enroll, including filling out a new form posted on the MNsure website, making contact with the call center by phone or e-mail, or starting an application on the website.
Under the Affordable Care Act's "personal responsibility requirement," often called the individual mandate, many consumers who don't enroll in a health plan will face a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of household income.
State officials note that as many as 60 percent of those without insurance qualified for one of Minnesota's publicly subsidized programs, MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance.
Additionally, federal tax credits available only by shopping on MNsure are available to make insurance coverage more affordable. Tax credits are available for an individual earning up to $45,960 or a family of three up to $87,120, for example.
To avoid the penalty and buy coverage that begins May 1, consumers must pay their first month's premium by 11:59 p.m., either on line or in person at MNsure by the end of business on Monday.
The deadline does not apply to those eligible for public health plans.
MNsure's enrollment celebration comes with an asterisk. Original forecasts were revised downward in mid-October, and the agency last month further slashed expectations for the number of people who bought private insurance from the website. Small business enrollment has been exceedingly low.
Missing the targets on private plans has a budget impact for the agency, which has been funded to date with federal grants but will need to be self-sufficient in 2015. A key source of financing comes from a fee collected on the premiums of commercial insurance for individuals and employers. MNsure is collecting 1.5 percent this year and could seek up to 3.5 percent in 2015.
To plug a budget gap caused by depressed enrollment in private plans this year, MNsure is asking the federal government for approval to carry over $5 million in grants already received next year.
Gov. Mark Dayton offered guarded praise for MNsure's benchmark achievement, and encouraged Minnesotans who haven't enrolled in health care coverage not to delay.
"Surpassing the enrollment goal demonstrates the significant progress MNsure has made since December," Dayton said in a statement. "This is a major achievement, but more must be done to improve MNsure's functionality and customer service for Minnesotans."