Public health insurance enrollees and their advisers were voicing frustration Wednesday over a year-end renewal process for people with state-sponsored coverage.

Earlier this week, the state Department of Human Services (DHS) informed lawmakers about renewals in the Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs that will drop about 64,000 people from coverage next month, mostly for failure to submit paperwork.

In another 6,100 cases, people with MinnesotaCare coverage received cutoff notices even though they submitted the required information on time, state officials told the Star Tribune on Wednesday evening.

“Those cases are being reopened and will have no gap in coverage,” the DHS said in a prepared statement. “Most of those will have coverage by Jan. 1, 2016. However there is a portion that will be processed after the New Year and will have retroactive coverage to Jan. 1, 2016.”

The disclosure came after health insurance advisers sounded alarms Wednesday about the recent notices.

Navigators at Portico Healthnet, a St. Paul-based nonprofit group, say they’ve received calls from many consumers who submitted paperwork earlier this month, only to receive a notice in recent days saying they were being dropped from coverage.

Compounding the problem, navigators said they haven’t been able to get phone calls answered by state officials for several days.

“We’re really concerned that our clients are going to experience lapses in coverage for the month of January because we can’t resolve it for them,” said Meghan Kimmel, a spokeswoman for Portico.

In its statement, DHS said its call center has been receiving calls all week. Wait times have been longer than normal, the department said, with averages between 20 and 30 minutes.

“We added staff to the DHS walk-in center to work with clients,” the department said, adding that its call center will be open during the New Year’s holiday weekend.

The renewals come in the context of public health insurance programs that provide health coverage for about 1 million state residents.

The state this year is using the new MNsure IT system to handle the renewals, but there have been problems. Troubles surfaced in May when the Star Tribune reported that about 55,000 renewal cases had been held up because of technical problems.

By July, the backlog had grown to 180,000 cases, most of which were resolved by late August. At that time, the state said about 40,000 enrollees were losing coverage for failure to provide information to show they qualify for coverage.

Medical Assistance mostly covers people with incomes at or below the poverty line, while MinnesotaCare provides health insurance for a slightly higher-income group.

In a letter to legislators this week, Nathan Moracco, an assistant commissioner in the Department of Human Services, said about 134,500 cases were up for renewal this month.

About 64,000 enrollees failed to respond to requests for information, so the cases were being closed.

“Historically, a significant number of individuals in the renewal pool fail to respond to requests for information, with a large number returning to the programs within 3 months,” Moracco wrote.

Moracco’s letter mentioned that the state is still processing some MinnesotaCare cases “where information was received near the deadline,” but didn’t say how many.

The last day for enrollees to submit forms for January coverage was Dec. 19.

“Renewal forms handed in at or near the deadline were unable to be processed to avoid receiving a closure notice,” the department said in a statement. “DHS will continue to process these cases to determine their eligibility, and those who are eligible will have no gap in coverage.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, wrote a letter Wednesday to Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper saying lawmakers were being “inundated” with calls from worried constituents.

“The common thread is Minnesotans have submitted all materials required for renewal or enrollment on time, but abruptly received termination notices in recent weeks,” Dean wrote.

 

Twitter: @chrissnowbeck