MNsure has identified "hot zones" for potential health insurance customers across the state, and several counties being targeted are in farm country.

At a board meeting Wednesday in St. Paul, MNsure officials displayed a map of the hot zones, which include several western Minnesota counties where a high share of people purchase individual health insurance policies.

MNsure assumes that many of those shoppers are farmers, so the state's exchange wants to spread the word about MNsure and the latest rules on eligibility for financial assistance, spokesman Joe Campbell said after the board meeting.

Many farmers have assets such as land and equipment that might have precluded them from financial assistance in the past, but rules have changed, MNsure officials say.

"Farmers don't know that they can qualify," said Allison O'Toole, the MNsure interim chief executive, in an interview. "Think about the work that they do — it's very physical work, and so [health insurance is] very important."

Minnesotans use the MNsure website to enroll in both public and private health insurance coverage. While residents can sign up for the state's Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs at any time, open enrollment for people buying individual policies begins Nov. 1.

The hot zones will help MNsure focus its marketing resources, Campbell said, and farmers won't be the only targets.

Other hot zones include counties where income data suggest there's the chance to enroll Minnesotans who qualify for state public programs, which help people with incomes near or below the poverty line. MNsure says there's a block of these hot zone counties in the north-central portion of the state.

Hennepin and St. Louis counties are examples of double hot zones, meaning there are a lot of people who buy individual policies plus a lot of people who might qualify for public program coverage. Most counties in the Twin Cities metro area are hot zones of one sort or another, according to MNsure.

"We'll be focusing some effort on radio and digital in those counties, understanding that we still have the broad radio and TV ads that will cover the entire state," Campbell told board members. "What this helps us do is identify where the market is."

About 300,000 Minnesotans, or roughly 6 percent of state residents, buy policies in the individual market, including about 51,000 who buy private coverage through the MNsure exchange.

Individual market premiums next year are jumping by an average of about 41 percent. That means more Minnesotans likely will qualify for tax credits that discount premium costs, and only are available through MNsure.

MNsure has repeatedly fallen short of enrollment targets since its launch two years ago. Officials think the tax credit message this fall is key both for helping consumers and the exchange itself, which is funded in part by selling private policies.

"It pays to shop and compare," Campbell told board members, "especially in a year where there are some pretty significant rate hikes."

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck