MNsure scaled back its estimates Wednesday for how many Minnesotans will end up using the website to enroll in private plans, but officials maintained that the agency will still be able to balance its budget.
The state’s new insurance exchange had been working toward a goal of enrolling about 70,000 in private plans by April 1. But revised estimates presented to the board of directors now project that 50,518 will buy insurance by the end of 2014.
Interim CEO Scott Leitz characterized the new numbers as a “conservative estimate” for budgeting purposes. But he said he believes the overall enrollment target for both private and government plans of 135,000 is still doable.
“The mix is different than we anticipated,” he told the board, but the overall enrollment goals are “close to on target.”
The new numbers are “pretty darn conservative, because that’s how we want to do budgeting,” Leitz said. “But we remain hopeful that we’ll be able to come in at a higher level.”
MNsure, the state’s online health insurance exchange, is bracing for a crush in the next month as Minnesotans rush to beat a March 31 deadline to buy insurance or face a tax penalty as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Republican critics jumped on the revised figures, pointing the finger at Gov. Mark Dayton for overstating projections.
“MNsure revised revenue projections from the insurance premium tax down 44 percent this year and 31 percent in 2015,” Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said in a statement. “As a result of the administration’s wildly inaccurate financial assumptions, MNsure will likely run a significant deficit next year and into the foreseeable future.”
MNsure’s finances are closely tied to the number of people who shop on the exchange for coverage. MNsure will receive 1.5 percent of the premium price of plans sold on the exchange this year, and up to 3.5 percent in 2015, when it must be self-sufficient.
By law, MNsure must present its 2015 finances to the Legislature by March 15. A budget subcommittee presented preliminary projections and considerations for how to balance the 2015 books at a board meeting Wednesday and none of the board members nor staff raised red flags or concerns.
Board member Tom Forsythe, a General Mills vice president, said MNsure might have to fill a $2 million to $4 million gap, though he estimated that by not handling premium payments, the agency could save upwards of $2 million.
“It’s not a sandbag, and it’s not a layup,” he said of the budget process, adding, “There’s one big variable — and it’s enrollment.”
To date more than 105,000 people have enrolled in plans through MNsure. Leitz noted that Minnesotans are buying much more expensive and comprehensive policies on MNsure compared with national trends.
About 49 percent have purchased either platinum or gold policies, compared with 19 percent nationally, he said.
Leitz said the site is making “substantial progress,” and all 100 temporary operators it has hired in response to problems are now taking calls.
Error rates are continuing a downward trend, at about 3 percent, Leitz said, and call center wait times are down to 3 minutes on average.
“We’ve turned a corner on this one,” he said.