The state's MNsure health insurance exchange said Friday it would open a 30-day special enrollment period to help uninsured Minnesotans get coverage as the novel coronavirus spreads.

Lack of health insurance is a potential barrier to patients seeking care if they are ill with COVID-19. Health policy experts fear those barriers could enable the virus to spread faster.

"As more cases of COVID-19 are diagnosed throughout the state, we want to make sure every Minnesotan has the security of health insurance to ensure they can get the care they need if they contract this serious illness," Nate Clark, the MNsure chief executive, said in a statement.

Run by the state government, MNsure is an online marketplace where people who don't get coverage from their employer can buy health insurance. Many qualify for federal subsidies under the federal Affordable Care Act.

About 240,000 people in Minnesota lacked health insurance in 2018, according to federal data.

Individuals seeking coverage can visit starting March 23 to complete an application and enroll in coverage. You must select a plan by April 21 for coverage beginning April 1.

In recent weeks, health insurers have committed to waiving out-of-pocket costs for people who need coronavirus testing. The Walz administration is pushing insurers to waive out-of-pocket costs for those with coverage who need treatment for the diseases.

Christopher Snowbeck • 612-673-4744

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck