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MNsure health exchange scheduled to go live Tuesday afternoon

Minnesota consumers will be able to shop for coverage and compare plans, apply for public health programs and calculate tax credits for their income level.

MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange, is scheduled to go live Tuesday afternoon after several last-minute test and security checks, officials said Monday.

MNsure logoThe exchange will make Obamacare’s initial deadline, they said, though it will come online later in the day than originally planned.

Using the exchange, Minnesota consumers will be able to shop for coverage and compare plans, apply for public health programs and calculate tax credits for their income level. Small businesses will be able to begin defining what sort of coverage employees will be able to get later this winter.

There will be some hiccups with in-person assistance, and exchange staff  have asked American Indians to hold off getting coverage for the first week the exchange is operational while tweaks are made.

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But exchange officials said the mood at MNsure was positive.

“People have been working very hard,” MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov told reporters during a Monday afternoon conference call. “There’s a lot of excited people over here to finally be hitting Oct. 1.”

Supporters estimate the exchange will serve more than 1.3 million Minnesotans in the coming years. Tuesday’s launch marks open enrollment, which will go through March.

Early Tuesday, final security and connectivity checks to the federal system will be conducted, Todd-Malmlov said. She assured state lawmakers last week that the embattled exchange wouldn’t go live if any “smoking guns” or security risks were identified prior to launch.

Chris Buse, Minnesota’s chief information security officer, reiterated that point at the same oversight meeting.

“At this point in time, we don’t see a list of those showstopper issues from a security perspective,” Buse told DFL Rep. Joe Atkins, an exchange leader in the Legislature. “But until the final review is done, I’m reluctant to give an answer that we’re good to go at this point.”

Naomi Rettke, a spokeswoman for Minnesota’s IT agency, said Monday afternoon that ongoing security checks hadn’t identified any serious issues. She said those checks would continue Tuesday, when the federal hub is supposed to become operational. Rather than a final, “jumbo” review, the state will continue ongoing tests.

“There have been no smoking guns,” Rettke said. “But they are going to continue to test.”

Todd-Malmlov also told reporters that the federal government shutdown that began Tuesday likely wouldn’t affect Minnesota’s exchange. President Barack Obama told reporters on Monday that the law is moving forward.

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“We are not anticipating that we will have any problems related to a potential government shutdown based on the information that we’re hearing,” Todd-Malmlov said Monday. “That’s not to say we won’t hear anything different.”

While MNsure officials say the basic functions of the exchange will be available today, in-person help won’t be available until Wednesday. Todd-Malmlov said health-insurance navigators and brokers need to finish training, get background checks and get access to the system.

Todd-Malmlov estimated the state is working with 5,000 individuals who will help consumers get insurance.

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The exchange’s call center averaged about 400 calls a day in mid-September, according to internal MNsure documents obtained by MinnPost. The call center will not be able to actually enroll consumers, she said, but will assist with enrollment once MNsure is online.

 Todd-Malmlov said it’s unlikely there will be a big rush to enroll early on, although many interested consumers may check out  the system’s features in the first days.

“We will be able to process applications and facilitate that enrollment process and purchase starting tomorrow,” she said. “We don’t anticipate there will be a lot of enrollment coming in through the first couple weeks.”

Gov. Mark Dayton, who has been briefed at least daily on the health insurance exchange for more than a week, has long defended the law. He and Todd-Malmlov said the federal government had delayed opening its side of the exchange infrastructure until 7 a.m. Tuesday.

That means MNsure won’t be up and running until the afternoon, though a specific time is unclear.

The governor has long defended the law against critics, especially Republicans who have ganged up on the exchange in recent weeks.

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“I think MNsure is in phenomenal shape, compared to any other state system and certainly compared to the federal government,” Dayton told reporters on Monday. “They’ve been working on it around the clock.”