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Minn. Reports 3,700 Enrollments Underway, But A Rocky Road For Consumers

Officials from MNsure, the online health insurance marketplace in Minnesota, provided the first public glimpse into how many Minnesotans have not only created accounts on the new health insurance site, but also committed to choosing a plan and paying for coverage.

MNsure officials say about 3,700 visitors to the site are in the enrollment process — they’ve taken the step of selecting coverage through MNsure and are in the payment process if their plans require payment. That’s about 30 percent of the total number of accounts opened. The majority of those in the enrollment process are qualified for government programs such as Medicaid or MinnesotaCare, the state’s plan for low-income people. About 400 accounts are enrolling in individual or family commercial plans. Four small businesses have completed setting up an employee health plan through MNsure.

The opening of the MNSure website was plagued with technical problems. It appears largely to have recovered, though wait times for the call center are still longer than projected.

The reviews from many organizations trying to enroll consumers in MNsure are still mixed. Elana Gravitz, Program Manager at Hennepin County Human Services Department sums up how many community organizations view the new marketplace, with a quick assessment: “Sometimes it works,” she said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work.”

MNsure officials say the on-again, off-again problems stem from the federal data hub that insurance marketplaces such as MNsure must use to verify a person’s income through the IRS. In recent weeks, the hub has been overwhelmed. But when it is working, Gravitz said, it automates the otherwise cumbersome enrollment process in Medicaid.

“It’s a great thing for the county,” she said. “What it means is that eventually as the system gets smoother and smoother, we’ll be able to have the workers spend the time with clients that have more complex issues and questions, rather than the folks who have more straightforward cases who might be able to take care of things on their own.”

Open Cities Health Center in St. Paul, which has a large clientele of non-English-speaking patients, has also had mixed results.

Duachi Her, who is certified by MNsure to help people enroll in health plans, said the site seems pretty straightforward. But so far, she hasn’t been able to enroll anyone because of problems with the MNsure site in creating accounts.  On the other hand, Her said, there hasn’t been a lot of interest. She said not many of the organization’s clients even know about MNsure.

“I haven’t heard much about it in the community,” Her said. “Not a lot of people know about it, especially the Hmong community or the Somali community. We haven’t had much education on it.”

Some people were pleasantly surprised because they really didn’t expect MNsure to work.

James Albrecht, a community health worker at Portico Healthnet, a nonprofit that helps Minnesotans find health coverage, hasn’t enrolled anyone on MNsure yet. But he said the system has surpassed his expectations anyway.

“I expected to have more tech problems. I was thinking that we’d get too many people using the system and that the system would crash and we’d be down for a couple of weeks,” Albrecht said. “So I’m actually surprised that it’s working as effectively as it is.”

MPR News reporter Catharine Richert contributed to this report.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes MPR News, NPR and Kaiser Health News.