Not everyone is happy with the MNsure website, but health exchange officials say there are clear signs of improvement.
Since open enrollment started Saturday, more than 1,500 people have signed up for commercial coverage through the MNsure website, health exchange officials said Wednesday.
Last year, it took two weeks before there were 406 sign-ups.
With a more stable website and speedier responses at the MNsure call center, the health exchange also has allowed nearly 3,200 people sign-up for public health insurance programs, said Scott Leitz, the MNsure chief executive, during a board meeting in St. Paul.
"We think we're greatly improved over last year," Leitz told board members.
There have been some problems.
During the first few days of open enrollment, about 500 people received a particular error message telling them that their application could not be completed, said Joe Campbell, a MNsure spokesman. The problem generated comments on the MNsure Facebook page, and involved calculation of federal tax credits that discount premium costs.
"They didn't know when it would be corrected, and couldn't help me," one woman wrote Monday on the social media website. "My husband must sign up for his work plan this week, but I need to compare to choose."
By Wednesday afternoon, the problem had been fixed, Campbell said. Another 200 to 300 people received error messages about a problem with the connection to a server, he said, but that's been fixed, too.
Since the start of open enrollment on Saturday, five MNsure users have contacted the Star Tribune to report problems.
Chuck Goetz, 52, of Woodbury said that as he's tried to enroll in coverage, he's repeatedly received what are called "403 http error" messages that prevent him from shopping for policies. Goetz said he was frustrated by the MNsure website last year, and said of the experience this fall: "I cannot find a noticeable difference. … You almost have to work up enough energy to make a run at it."
Campbell, the MNsure spokesman, said those errors usually can be resolved if website users clear the cache in their website browsers, and use either the Chrome or Firefox browsers.
Other website users have complained about uncertainty around tax credit calculations, as well as the limited hours of operation at the MNsure website. It's closed between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. every day — a limitation that MNsure says is driven by a federal data hub that confirms eligibility for financial assistance.
During Wednesday's board meeting, insurance counselors told board members the website is improved.
"It is so much more user-friendly," said Mary Jo Anderson, a health insurance navigator in Minneapolis who said she helped 10 people sign up this week.
"The actual loading time of the website, and the fluidity of the pages is much improved," said Alycia Riedl, chairwoman of the board at the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters, a trade group for insurance agents.
People who are renewing coverage through the health exchange use their ID and password from last year. For those who forgot it, getting a password reset can take at least 20 minutes, both Anderson and Riedl told board members.
The comments prompted board member Tom Forsythe to ask: "Do we need to put the renewing consumer through the pain of trying to remember their old password?"
Katie Burns, the chief operating officer at MNsure, said the exchange will try to improve the process. But she encouraged people to use their existing accounts, because otherwise consumers must go through a process of verifying their eligibility with the federal data hub.
Identity verification was a stumbling block for many last year, although there are signs the process now is working better.
Minnesota launched MNsure last year to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which called for the creation of online health insurance marketplaces for all 50 states. People use MNsure to purchase policies for individuals and families, or to enroll in public health insurance programs.
Currently, about 50,000 people have private coverage through MNsure. The exchange's budget projects the number will grow by the end of 2015 to 100,000 people — a figure that an outside expert has called a "tall order" for MNsure.
The MNsure board is scheduled to revisit enrollment projections at its meeting in December. After the meeting, board Chairman Brian Beutner said he didn't know if the 100,000 figure will need to be reduced.
"Absolutely," Beutner said of the "tall order" description. "But is it unrealistic? Don't know."