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MNsure officials heartened by latest health-insurance sign-up data

MNsure officials said their latest statistics make them confident that enrollment will keep pace with their targets for the initial sign-up period.

MNsureMNsure officials said their latest statistics make them confident that enrollment will keep pace with their health insurance targets for the sign-up period that ends in March.

Consumer interest in the state’s health exchange doubled — and in some cases, more than doubled — in most areas tracked since last month, according to data released Wednesday.

The exchange reported nearly 4,500 private health plan enrollments are in process and about 20,000 had enrolled in public programs by the end of November. The median age of enrollees was 50 years, but officials said their target median is closer to 40.

Another 50,000 people have completed applications but haven’t moved into the final stages of selecting private coverage. That would bring MNsure close to its goal of 70,000 sign-ups for the open-enrollment period.

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“They’re warm leads” that MNsure has to pin down, governing board Chairman Brian Beutner said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m pretty excited where the numbers are today.”

MNsure and related agencies are performing last-minute checks for eligibility and have begun sending out final eligibility notices to consumers, working to pull everything off before the Jan. 1 coverage deadline.

Most of the calls to MNsure’s help line, which doubled in staff to handle the volume of inquiries, were related to consumers’ confusion over what their final status was.

The exchange also has started sending out bills to consumers who have requested them, at least 1,200 so far, and about one-third of people have already paid for their plans online. Those seeking private coverage have to select it by Dec. 23 and pay for it by Dec. 31 in order to have coverage on Jan. 1.

Exchange staffers have discovered glitches recently, which prompted the double-checking of consumer information for about 30,000 Minnesotans. Exchange staff say the re-check will likely shift some enrollees to different programs.

It doesn’t mean they all have problems,” MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov said. “It’s just easier to run them all through.”

Some of the bills that MNsure sent out are also incorrect, according to a memo sent to insurance brokers on Monday. There’s also some debate how about how late consumers can pay insurance carriers — they have the option to pay MNsure or their health plan — and still get coverage beginning on Jan. 1.

Insurance plans are worried they won’t be able to process payments quickly enough with a Dec. 23 deadline and request a bill from the private companies.

“Please encourage your clients to pick their health plans and pay MNsure as soon as possible, or, at the latest, before December 15, 2013 to ensure a coverage start date of January 1, 2014,” the memo says.

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But officials stressed that those issues don’t apply to people who enrolled in MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance, the public programs for low-income residents.

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson has stressed that eligible Minnesotans who have completed the necessary steps will be covered under a public program on Jan. 1.

Some people may be placed in a default plan or in a separate Medical Assistance program for the first month of coverage, she said after the meeting on Wednesday, but they’ll be able to select from a range of coverage options for February.

Jesson also noted that people who enroll in MinnesotaCare — which requires premium payments — won’t have to pay before Jan. 1 in order to receive coverage for the first month.

Along with the positive enrollment figures, officials announced some delays.

For example, a dedicated feature for navigators and brokers that would make it easier for them to enroll consumers has been delayed. Also, computer processing for small-business employees to sign up for coverage won’t be available next week, as originally intended.

Alycia Riedl, president of the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters, an agent and broker trade group, said the dedicated access has been her industry’s No. 1 priority. It was supposed to be released in an update this month. The delay could have significant impacts for consumers, she said.

“I think that it’s going to severely limit how many brokers use MNsure,” she said.

MNsure also has been unable to process some 2,600 paper applications. The exchange has to reach out to those consumers, or to brokers and navigators who helped them sign up, Riedl said.