A prob­lem with the MNsure sys­tem has pre­vent­ed about 7,500 peo­ple from en­rol­ling in public health in­sur­ance programs, state of­fi­cials said Mon­day, as they de­scribed what ap­pears to be the larg­est tech­nol­o­gy glitch of the cur­rent open en­roll­ment pe­riod.

The state Department of Hu­man Services has dedi­cat­ed 30 employees to help peo­ple af­fect­ed by the snag and ex­pects to re­solve the sit­u­a­tion in about 10 days.

Peo­ple who should have had cov­er­age start­ing Jan. 1 will eith­er have ret­ro­ac­tive bene­fits, or the state will cov­er the cost of med­i­cal bills as need­ed, Chuck Johnson, a dep­u­ty com­mis­sion­er at DHS, said in a Mon­day inter­view.

The Star Tribune learn­ed of the prob­lem in late De­cem­ber from two users of the MNsure website who said they weren’t able to enroll in the MinnesotaCare public health in­sur­ance program. The is­sue also ap­plies to some who likely qual­i­fy for cov­er­age from Med­ic­aid, the health in­sur­ance program for the state’s low­est-in­come resi­dents.

The root of the prob­lem, Johnson said, is that peo­ple are try­ing to enroll in cov­er­age for 2015 through a new ac­count, rath­er than the ac­count they cre­at­ed to ob­tain cov­er­age for 2014.

“By de­sign, the sys­tem says: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa — we can’t enroll this per­son un­til we re­solve what’s going on with this oth­er ac­count that has the same so­cial se­curi­ty num­ber on it,’ ” Johnson said. “So, it’s hold­ing those cases up, and they need in­ter­ven­tion to get re­solved.”

The glitch ap­par­ent­ly catch­es only those who didn’t qual­i­fy last year for one of the public health in­sur­ance programs, he said, but are now el­i­gi­ble for such cov­er­age in 2015.

Minnesota launched the MNsure health ex­change in 2013 to im­ple­ment the fed­er­al Af­ford­a­ble Care Act, which re­quires al­most all Ameri­cans to have health in­sur­ance or pay a tax pen­al­ty. The roll­out was rock­y, in­clud­ing one prob­lem that prompt­ed the state to re­proc­ess some 30,000 ap­pli­ca­tions to make sure MNsure was prop­er­ly con­nect­ing peo­ple with sub­si­dies. Dur­ing much of De­cem­ber 2013, prob­lems prompt­ed thou­sands of peo­ple to wait hours on hold for help from an over­whelmed MNsure call cen­ter.

The cur­rent open en­roll­ment pe­riod start­ed Nov. 15, and call cen­ter waits have been much short­er. MNsure users re­port the website has been work­ing bet­ter, al­though of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge it’s far from per­fect. In De­cem­ber, MNsure of­fi­cials de­tailed five glitch­es, say­ing each prob­lem af­fect­ed any­where from a few doz­en to a few hun­dred peo­ple.

As of Jan. 6, about 42,000 people had used MNsure to enroll in public health insurance programs during the current open enrollment period. Another 33,000 people had used the exchange to buy private health insurance.

Johnson said Mon­day that DHS had been track­ing cases af­fect­ed by the lat­est glitch for a few months, but the num­ber of peo­ple af­fect­ed spiked in De­cem­ber. By Jan. 6, about 160 peo­ple who con­tacted DHS about the prob­lem had their cases re­solved, he said.

For the 7,500 peo­ple still af­fect­ed by the prob­lem, DHS says it will send them no­ti­ces about their cov­er­age as cases are re­solved.

The ul­ti­mate fix to the prob­lem, Johnson said, would stop peo­ple using the MNsure website from cre­at­ing a du­pli­cate ac­counts, rath­er than flag­ging du­pli­cates as peo­ple try to enroll. There’s no timeline for when such a fix will be im­ple­ment­ed, he said, al­though state of­fi­cials are work­ing on it.

“It’s pre­vent­ing them at the point of en­roll­ment,” Johnson said. “It would prob­a­bly work bet­ter if they were be­ing caught at the point that they were cre­at­ing the ac­count.”

Another way to prevent the problem, Johnson said, would be for website users to work within their original accounts. The state asks that people “keep track of your passwords and user names, so you’re able to sign in and work through a single account in managing your health care,” he said.


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck