A problem with the MNsure system has prevented about 7,500 people from enrolling in public health insurance programs, state officials said Monday, as they described what appears to be the largest technology glitch of the current open enrollment period.
The state Department of Human Services has dedicated 30 employees to help people affected by the snag and expects to resolve the situation in about 10 days.
People who should have had coverage starting Jan. 1 will either have retroactive benefits, or the state will cover the cost of medical bills as needed, Chuck Johnson, a deputy commissioner at DHS, said in a Monday interview.
The Star Tribune learned of the problem in late December from two users of the MNsure website who said they weren’t able to enroll in the MinnesotaCare public health insurance program. The issue also applies to some who likely qualify for coverage from Medicaid, the health insurance program for the state’s lowest-income residents.
The root of the problem, Johnson said, is that people are trying to enroll in coverage for 2015 through a new account, rather than the account they created to obtain coverage for 2014.
“By design, the system says: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa — we can’t enroll this person until we resolve what’s going on with this other account that has the same social security number on it,’ ” Johnson said. “So, it’s holding those cases up, and they need intervention to get resolved.”
The glitch apparently catches only those who didn’t qualify last year for one of the public health insurance programs, he said, but are now eligible for such coverage in 2015.
Minnesota launched the MNsure health exchange in 2013 to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. The rollout was rocky, including one problem that prompted the state to reprocess some 30,000 applications to make sure MNsure was properly connecting people with subsidies. During much of December 2013, problems prompted thousands of people to wait hours on hold for help from an overwhelmed MNsure call center.
The current open enrollment period started Nov. 15, and call center waits have been much shorter. MNsure users report the website has been working better, although officials acknowledge it’s far from perfect. In December, MNsure officials detailed five glitches, saying each problem affected anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred people.
As of Jan. 6, about 42,000 people had used MNsure to enroll in public health insurance programs during the current open enrollment period. Another 33,000 people had used the exchange to buy private health insurance.
Johnson said Monday that DHS had been tracking cases affected by the latest glitch for a few months, but the number of people affected spiked in December. By Jan. 6, about 160 people who contacted DHS about the problem had their cases resolved, he said.
For the 7,500 people still affected by the problem, DHS says it will send them notices about their coverage as cases are resolved.
The ultimate fix to the problem, Johnson said, would stop people using the MNsure website from creating a duplicate accounts, rather than flagging duplicates as people try to enroll. There’s no timeline for when such a fix will be implemented, he said, although state officials are working on it.
“It’s preventing them at the point of enrollment,” Johnson said. “It would probably work better if they were being caught at the point that they were creating the account.”
Another way to prevent the problem, Johnson said, would be for website users to work within their original accounts. The state asks that people “keep track of your passwords and user names, so you’re able to sign in and work through a single account in managing your health care,” he said.