About 117,500 people signed up for 2020 health insurance coverage during MNsure's recently completed open-enrollment period — a figure released Tuesday that is roughly 6,000 people shy of last of year's final tally for open enrollment.
The general sign-up period for 2020 coverage concluded Monday, and MNsure stressed in a news release that the enrollment tally exceeded last year's count as of Dec. 23. Last year's open-enrollment period, however, stretched into January and concluded with more than 123,500 total sign-ups.
In an e-mail to the Star Tribune, MNsure confirmed that open enrollment sign-ups for 2020 coverage are down 5% compared with last year's final figure. But state officials said they expect more people will enroll in coverage during the coming weeks under special enrollment rules.
"Despite uncertainty on the federal level, we're pleased MNsure was able to sign up over 117,500 Minnesotans for health care coverage," said Nate Clark, MNsure chief executive, in a news release. "It's clear that Minnesotans see the value of comprehensive coverage and rely on the consumer protections and financial benefits offered only through MNsure."
This month, the federal government reported that sign-ups for 2020 coverage were down by about 2% on the HealthCare.gov website, which serves as the health insurance exchange for more than 30 states.
The figures were viewed as a sign of relatively stable consumer interest in coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite an ongoing legal challenge that puts the law's future in question.
MNsure and other government-run health exchange websites were launched in late 2013 as part of the ACA. The websites are an option for people who buy individual health plan coverage.
MNsure officials said they opted this year for a seven-week open enrollment after consulting with health insurance counselors and reviewing data that show the vast majority of sign-ups occur by Dec. 23. Last year's general sign-up period lasted 10 weeks.
"Many of the Minnesotans who enrolled in late December and early January would have been eligible for special enrollment," MNsure told the Star Tribune.
"We also believe it's important to get people enrolled in December so that they can access 12 months of coverage," the agency said. "The Dec. 23 deadline gives insurers enough time to process enrollments, and consumers can start using their insurance right away in the new year."
The Trump administration pushed two years ago for shorter enrollment periods as part of market stabilization rules meant to stop people from enrolling in coverage only after they learn of medical problems.
Consumer advocates argued, however, that shorter sign-up periods might effectively exclude relatively healthy people who are more likely to delay making a decision on coverage.
More than half of households that signed up for coverage via the MNsure website qualified for federal tax credits that average $5,244 per year. During the open-enrollment period, more than 58,000 people used the MNsure website to apply for public health insurance coverage.
The MNsure call center fielded more than 80,000 calls during open enrollment, and consumers used the online plan-comparison tool in nearly 300,000 sessions.
"MNsure's improved shopping and enrollment platform made signing up for coverage easier than ever," Clark said in a statement. "We continue to improve the shopping experience so that Minnesotans can find the health coverage that best meets their needs."