Having recently retired, I decided I wanted to be a part of the process of enrolling people in MNsure, the Minnesota version of the Affordable Care Act’s online health insurance exchanges. It felt to me a little like the civil rights movement, during which I had played a small but meaningful (to me) part as a college student. This time, I wanted to celebrate an achievement that had been the object of public organizing for nearly 100 years. (In 1915, for example, progressive reformers had proposed a system of compulsory health insurance to protect workers against both wage loss and medical costs during sickness. The American Association for Labor Legislation’s proposal, modeled on existing programs in Germany and England, was debated throughout the country and introduced as legislation in several states.)

I found two organizations that were looking for volunteers to help with outreach and enrollment. I began phone-banking and helping with open-enrollment events in October, and I did my last shift this past Saturday. Here is some of what I saw from the inside out of the first six months of Obamacare in Minnesota, as I followed the media’s reporting of the disastrous rollout of the website access points. I do not dispute any of the coverage, but only want to give a different perspective, perhaps a bit closer to those who hoped to gain a level of health security through this historic legislation.


On calling:

1) Early on, I was surprised that many, many people knew very little about the law and how it would affect them. As cereal advertisers know, repetition is a basic premise for selling your product.

2) With few exceptions, people were very grateful for my call and our efforts to get people insured, even those who already had insurance.

3) Almost no one expressed anger to me about the MNsure website’s many flaws, although many had experienced them firsthand. Telling them about trained navigators and how they could help them with enrollment problems felt like a very useful reason to call.


On enrollment events:

1) While the process was often long and filled with website lockups and deletions, MNsure enrollees were remarkably patient and appreciative of the efforts of the navigators. I think of newspaper photos of people in long lines waiting patiently to vote for the first time in some far-off small country.

2) At my second enrollment event, a young mom came out of the enrollment room with a huge smile. She had come the previous Thursday and stayed for three hours, unsuccessful in finishing the enrollment. She returned on a Saturday for another hour and said that for the first time, she and her two special-needs children would have health insurance.

3) At another event, families with older non-English-speaking immigrants came and there was someone who could speak Hmong or Somali to help them get insured.

4) At my last event, a woman walked in with four school-aged children trailing her. After an hour, she came out with teary eyes and said to us: “I tried to use the website myself at home and I thought insurance would cost me $500 per month. Here I found out that my children qualify for Medicaid and my insurance will cost me $46 a month. I just went through a terrible divorce, and now I know I’m going to make it.”


Yes, the MNsure rollout was a mess. But having a chance to see up close who benefited, what the financial stakes were and how they measured the hassles vs. the peace of mind — that was priceless.


Carol C. White lives in Minneapolis.