Archived Story

MNsure website off to rocky start even after delay

Published 1:15pm Thursday, October 3, 2013

 

The state’s new online health insurance marketplace appears to be off to a rough start. MNsure did not offer links that allow people to search for health plans until late Tuesdayafternoon, and for a while the links led users to unavailable pages.

MNsure’s launch was delayed so agency officials could make sure the website could connect to the federal hub, a database filled with citizenship, tax and income information. It will be used to determine whether someone is eligible for government programs like Medical Assistance or for federal subsidies to help buy commercial insurance.

More than 1 million Minnesotans are expected to use the site to obtain insurance coverage by 2016.

“We are in the process of connecting [to the federal hub], and so far all is going well,” MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said in an email this morning.

For much of the day, uninsured Minnesotans — and Minnesotans with insurance just looking for a better deal — waited for the site to open.

Mitch Grussing, a 27-year-old piano teacher in St. Paul, is one of them. He currently has health coverage through the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, a pool of high-risk patients who are unable to otherwise obtain coverage.

But Grussing said his condition is relatively easy to handle and doesn’t require a lot of treatment. He hopes that the plans on MNsure will offer better and less expensive coverage.

“There are no really good options on MCHA unless you have a really expensive to treat chronic condition,” he said. “But if you’re like me and you have a — yes — preexisting condition that doesn’t necessarily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat, it’s going to be great to have a plan that doesn’t cost me thousands of dollars a year for coverage that I don’t even use.”

After the MNsure website launched, it was at times unavailable. People who did manage to access the site encountered some significant glitches.

For instance, the website asks users if it’s important for them to keep their current doctor or clinic. When a user clicks “yes,” a message appears saying the function isn’t available. This may be a big problem for people who are anxious to find out if they can keep their doctor if they buy a plan through MNsure.

It was also not possible to compare bronze, silver, gold and platinum plans.http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/09/06/explainer-health-plan-metal-levels

Trying to create a personal account also was difficult, as users found that that the system couldn’t identify them if they put in personal information.

At Hennepin County Medical Center, where many low income patients go for treatment, MNsure project manager Tony Yanni said his staff has been answering a lot of questions about MNsure today. Many patients are confused about it, he said.

“A lot of people either see the Paul Bunyan ad, or they hear the talk in the community, or they see some of our advertisements around the hospital,” Yanni said. “A lot of people think that MNsure is the program itself. So when we explain to them, ‘no, MNsure is actually a health care exchange [that offers commercial and government insurance] that seems to really resonates with folks.’ “

ALL SYSTEMS GO, ALMOST

Once MNsure is live, some functions will be limited, MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov said.

Small businesses will be able to set up accounts and pick an array of plans for their employees to choose from, but their workers won’t be able to pick and enroll in a plan until later this year. MNsure officials have asked members of the state’s Native American communities to hold off on enrollment for a week until the state sorts out issues having to do with special provisions regarding subsidy eligibility.

For the time being, MNsure will only be available for limited hours. It also won’t be available in different languages like exchanges in other states.

However, the exchange’s core functions will be ready to go, Todd-Malmlov said. That means Minnesotans should be able to compare, pick and pay for plans. The MNsure site also should be able to determine someone’s eligibility for government programs or subsidies.

Across the nation, other state exchanges also are opening. If the MNsure site is able to do everything MNsure officials say it will, it appears Minnesota is in good shape compared to other states.

In California, employers will have to apply for the small business exchange via paper application, said a Covered California spokesman. In Oregon, people will have to get one-on-one assistance to enroll in a plan, and in Colorado, people will have to call a help line to find out if they are eligible for federal subsidies.

Meanwhile, the federal government launched its insurance marketplace, to be used by 34 states. It was working intermittently, and varied by state, throughout the morning.

ASSISTERS STILL WAITING FOR CONTRACTS, TROUBLESHOOTING

The Minnesota system isn’t without problems. MNsure officials say none of the network of groups chosen to help consumers will be certified to provide help until Wednesday at the earliest.

Alycia Riedl, president of the MN Association of Health Underwriters, said members of her group have serious concerns about being able to help people use MNsure. Many brokers who have completed the MNsure training have yet to receive certification from Msure to help consumers.

Even when they are, it will be difficult for brokers to help clients unless they do it in person, Riedl said. That’s because a quirk in the MNsure system won’t allow a broker to set up an account for their client over the phone.

“The MNsure website for individual consumers does not have functionality for an assister to help someone set up an account, guide them through the system, seeing what they see, helping them when they need it,” Riedl said. “The only way that an assister will be able to provide guidance is if they are figuratively or literally looking over the shoulder of the prospective enrollee. Agents want to help their customers as they try to make the very best health care coverage decision they can, and, without all of the necessary tools, agents are concerned that it will prove to be difficult at best.”

In Bemidji, Community Resource Connections Director Ruth Sherman said she’s still waiting for her contract from MNsure to help educate and enroll people in exchange.

Two of her three employees have finished training at this point, but Sherman said she’s not waiting to schedule outreach events.

“[MNsure] is a big deal,” she said.

Sherman said she has already received calls from local colleges to come and talk to students about MNsure.

MNsure is still trying to certify groups and people who have special training to help with enrollment, Todd-Malmlov said. It should have an initial list of assisters on its website byWednesday, but that will only be a sliver of the brokers, counties, agencies and non-profits who will be involved.

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