The "trained service representative" answered my call to MNsure's new customer contact center within seconds.

It was 8:24 a.m. on Tuesday, and as it turns out, I was one of the first consumers to ask questions about how the Affordable Care Act (or as I like to call it, Romneycare) will roll out.

My trained service representative (TSR) was polite, almost chipper. I had two questions.

"I know you can't deny someone medical insurance due to pre-existing conditions, but can you charge me more if I have them? Will my costs be a lot higher if I have, say, diabetes?"

"No," said the woman. "Nope. Your coverage will be the same, no matter what."

She went on to explain that I'd be able to choose from several levels of coverage, and would be able to decide whether I wanted higher premiums and higher or lower deductibles. But the system won't penalize people who are already sick.

OK. So far, so good.

My second question was about an article I'd read about UPS dropping spouses of workers from health insurance policies, if they could get them elsewhere.

As I later found out, UPS, like many other companies (including the Star Tribune) is only dropping spouses who can get coverage through their employer, not through the ACA. So far.

But is anything stopping companies from dropping spouses who can only get coverage through the ACA?

"I've not heard anything about that," said my TSR. "I don't know any reason they wouldn't be able to do that. You just never know. You would hope that wouldn't happen."

I don't blame my TSR for not knowing that one. I'd asked the same question of Sen. Al Franken at the fair last week, and he looked flummoxed.

"Get back to you," he blurted, before darting into the crowd.

There is a lot we don't know about the new health care system, and won't until the gears engage and the machine starts to roll. This makes us all uneasy.

We won't know how many companies will use enactment of the ACA to squeeze out of health care obligations by blaming the bill, like UPS, or how many will go to part-time workers to avoid coverage. Or how many young people will decide to burden the rest of society with their perceived invincibility.

I've always found it ludicrous that we tie health care to jobs in the first place, making decisions on where people live and work almost totally dependent on the health coverage of their employer.

It's like choosing your wife based on her dental plan.

I have no idea how the ACA will work. As long as I'm employed at this job, my coverage won't change come January. But I used the calculator at the MNsure website, and if my family had to go on the open market with our current salaries, it wouldn't be pretty.

Then again, if I do have to go on the open market, my income would likely be zero by then and my care would be subsidized, so there's that to look forward to.

My real-life questions were pretty tame, so I decided to work up some full-on, cranky old guy health paranoia, and called MNsure back.

I told the TSR I'd Googled things on the Internet and listened to talk radio.

"Okaaaay," she said, a bit warily.

"Is the IRS going to be able to see my medical records?"

"Boy, not that I'm aware of," she said. She noted there were "very, very, very strict rules," and that only people I allowed to see my medical records, could see them.

Then I told the TSR I had talked to young people (true) who said they were going to pay fines rather than buy MNsure care.

"So if this guy gets bonked on the head and goes to the ER, do I have to pay for that?"

The TSR laughed, just a little.

"Not necessarily," she said. It's complicated. Depends on the circumstances. Ultimately, it's the uninsured guy's problem, unless he's broke.

In that case, yes, it's all of our problem, just like I thought.

"Right now, we don't know" many things, she said.


It was Day One of the MNsure soft opening. I had heard the voice of health care future, and while it was a little sketchy on the prognosis, it had a lovely timbre. • 612-673-1702