News : Minnesota Residents Rush for Health Coverage
St. Paul, Minn., March 31, 2014 -- The call center for Minnesota's online health insurance marketplace strained Monday under a crush of people trying to beat the midnight Monday deadline for open enrollment, while residents lined up to take advantage of locations offering in-person help.
MNsure said its call center logged about 17,000 calls by 4 p.m. Monday, taxing the phone system and preventing some people from getting through to agents. The average wait time was 20 minutes. The call volume was about four times that seen on Dec. 31, an earlier enrollment deadline for coverage that took effect Jan. 1.
Minnesota is one of 14 states plus Washington, D.C., that chose to run their own exchanges rather than using the federal system.
People who couldn't get through or encountered difficulty signing up online were urged to fill out an enrollment attempt form on MNsure's website so an agent could contact them later to complete the enrollment process. Those who missed the 11:59 p.m. CDT deadline but made a good-faith effort to enroll were being allowed more time and to escape the federal tax penalty.
"It's been really busy all day," said Tina Curry, Ramsey County's division director for financial assistance services, who said the navigators told her MNsure's system seemed to be running slower than normal because of the demand.
More than 152,000 people had enrolled for coverage as of Friday. The exchange did not plan to issue updated figures until Tuesday. MNsure Interim Chief Executive Scott Leitz also said he doesn't expect to have a tally until sometime in April on how many of the 400,000 previously uninsured Minnesotans have enrolled. About 60 percent of the state's uninsured were eligible for public programs, he said.
Before MNsure's call center started reaching capacity, Leitz urged people "not to wait to enroll. The longer you wait, the more challenged the system might become."
Speaking to reporters at MNsure headquarters, Leitz said fixes to the system and added capacity since a troubled launch last Oct. 1 made him confident that it could handle the final surge, though he acknowledged temporary slowdowns were likely. The call center would remain staffed through midnight, he said.
Monday was the last day for most people to sign up for private insurance plans before the next open enrollment period this fall. However, the state's human services commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, noted that people eligible for Medical Assistance, the state's version of Medicaid, and MinnesotaCare, a program for the working poor, can enroll throughout the year. People who thought they were ineligible for those programs or couldn't afford the premiums should check again because the rules have changed, she said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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