The state is extending coverage into the new year for about 64,000 people in public health insurance programs who were notified in December that their benefits would expire on Friday.

Earlier this week, the state Department of Human Services (DHS) informed lawmakers that about 40,000 people in the state's MinnesotaCare program and another 24,000 people in Medical Assistance were being dropped from coverage, mostly for failure to submit paperwork needed to renew their coverage.

Enrollees and health insurance navigators complained, however, that some were being cut off after submitting required paperwork, while others couldn't get calls answered by DHS to explain what was happening.

"In response to concerns about the 2016 renewals process, we are extending the period which people have to submit their forms," said Nathan Moracco, an assistant commissioner at DHS, in a statement issued Thursday evening. "Cases that were closed will be reopened for January coverage. This coverage will be effective beginning Jan. 1, 2016."

Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said state officials made the decision due in part to concerns that too many people were being dropped from coverage given historical norms.

Usually, about 30 percent of people going through renewals lose coverage for failure to submit paperwork, with many coming back into the public programs within a few months, Lourey said. But the 64,000 people being dropped as of Jan. 1 represented about 50 percent of the cases that were up for renewal.

"There is quite a bit of discomfort and a feeling that something is not quite right here," Lourey said. He added that the goal of Thursday's decision is to "make sure that we get everybody who should be covered, covered. … This is a big deal for the constituents we serve."

People who received cutoff notices over the past week were given the option to call DHS or the state's MNsure health exchange to learn about the decision.

Those who called MNsure encountered long waits due in part to the exchange's Dec. 28 deadline for private coverage that starts in January. At the DHS help line, the call volume this week has been "unprecedented," said Chuck Johnson, a deputy commissioner.

Moracco said DHS will be issuing notices to enrollees who did not return their renewal forms, and to enrollees who submitted renewal forms that DHS could not process by Dec. 31.

State officials told the Star Tribune on Wednesday that in about 6,100 cases, people with MinnesotaCare coverage received cutoff notices even though they submitted the required information on time.

In his statement Thursday evening, Moracco said the state will provide additional instructions for what enrollees need to do to continue coverage in February.

Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck