The Department of Human Services continues to have trouble sending premium bills to thousands of enrollees in the state’s MinnesotaCare health insurance program.

In July, state officials said they had been unable to send premium notices to enrollees in about 55,000 cases this year because of technical problems.

The DHS worked with counties in August to resolve a backlog of some 180,000 coverage renewals in public health insurance programs, and the process was intended to also resolve the problem with MinnesotaCare premium notices.

More notices are going out now, but many still aren’t, said Nathan Moracco, an assistant commissioner, during a Thursday interview.

“We believe it’s something more than 10,000,” that aren’t being sent, Moracco said. “We have reason to believe that it’s less than the original 55,000 that we were at.”

MinnesotaCare is a safety net health insurance program, primarily for people with incomes somewhat above the poverty line. About 113,000 residents have coverage through the program, with premiums ranging from $0 to $80 per month.

State officials were scheduled to implement information technology fixes Thursday and Friday that are designed to resolve problems, said Scott Peterson with the state’s MN.IT department.

If the fixes work, the state next week will be in a better position to assess how many months of premium have gone uncollected this year, Moracco said.

“We have tens of thousands of folks who are getting premium notices,” he said. But Moracco added: “Premiums still continue to be a challenge that we’re having with the system.”

DHS is using the MNsure information technology system for sending invoices, but said in July that it would revert to an old system next year for MinnesotaCare premiums because of the continued MNsure problems.

MNsure is the state’s health insurance exchange for buying private health insurance, as well as the new enrollment and eligibility system for MinnesotaCare and Medicaid.

Most funding for MinnesotaCare comes from the state and federal governments, Moracco said, so the trouble with sending premium notices hasn’t affected the program’s finances.

In November, DHS projected that troubles with premiums would cut collections by about $6 million for the two-year period that ended in June, and another $21 million during the two-year period that started in July.

DHS says it has encouraged enrollees to keep paying their old premium amounts, even if they haven’t been getting notices. The department says it won’t drop people from coverage for failure to pay past bills, although the state wants to work with enrollees on some sort of payment plan.

This reconciliation process, however, isn’t getting started until the current technical snags are resolved. State officials say they must complete the renewals process first, because it can change the amount of premium owed and whether an enrollee still qualifies for MinnesotaCare.

During the public comment portion of the MNsure board meeting on Wednesday in St. Paul, an official with Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services questioned how the reconciliation process would work.

“We will work with the consumer to identify the best way to repay those premiums,” replied Moracco, who was filling in for MNsure board member and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “What that looks like exactly, we’re not sure — and it certainly could vary from client to client.”


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck