Lawmakers grilled MNsure and state officials Tuesday about enrollment and call center problems that occurred in December as thousands of Minnesotans tried to renew or establish health insurance coverage for 2016.

At the time, the Star Tribune reported that 64,000 people in the state’s public health insurance programs were being dropped from coverage for failing to supply requested information.

On New Year’s Eve, the state decided to extend coverage into January because of problems with the renewal process. On Tuesday, Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper provided lawmakers with more detail, saying the state had failed to give enrollees a required 10-day notice of the cutoffs.

On the MNsure side, wait times at the health insurance exchange’s call center on Dec. 28 averaged an hour, due in part to an ice storm in Illinois that cut staffing by an outside vendor. MNsure Chief Executive Allison O’Toole told legislators that the vendor is compensating with extra call center resources at other times during the exchange’s current open enrollment period, but the answer didn’t satisfy Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake.

“Frankly, until we get some money back, they’ll just look at us as patsies,” Benson said during a meeting of the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee near the Capitol in St. Paul.

Minnesota launched the MNsure exchange in 2013 to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

People who buy individual policies have a chance at federal tax credits if they purchase through MNsure. The state also uses the exchange’s IT system for handling enrollment and determining eligibility for the Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs.

Crunch time

The week between Christmas and New Year’s was a crunch time for MNsure. People buying private coverage through the exchange had until Dec. 28 to purchase plans that would take effect on Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Human Services in late December sent notices to 64,000 people in MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance saying that their coverage was being terminated.

Termination notices listed the phone number for MNsure, which contributed to a spike in calls to the understaffed call center.

Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, asked about a recent letter from Piper to legislators that cited faulty information from vendor IBM as a “significant factor” in the delay in sending 10-day notices to enrollees about termination of their public health insurance. IBM’s software is used in the portion of MNsure for public programs.

Piper said the process of finding the error and fixing it “caused those notices not to be generated at least 10 days before people’s insurance coverage was set to terminate.” As a result, she added, “people didn’t receive adequate notice of their coverage terminating.”

Benson said the trouble with notices to public program enrollees is just the latest in a long series of problems related to the MNsure system, including a lack of invoices to MinnesotaCare enrollees and incorrect eligibility determinations.

“When is somebody going to get fired, or somebody going to be held accountable?” she asked. “When are the taxpayers going to get the value that they’ve put into all of these systems?”


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck