First-week MNsure participation higher than expected, official says

MARSHALL – Thousands of Minnesotans have participated in a new health insurance market this week, in spite of technical difficulties slowing down the enrollment process.

In a press conference call Friday afternoon, MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov said about 5,000 MNsure accounts have been opened in the market’s first week of operation.

“We think it’s been going very well,” Todd-Malmlov said. Heavy enrollment wasn’t expected in the first week of operation, she said.

MNsure is tasked with delivering new federal health insurance policies to Minnesota residents. MNsure’s online insurance market and call center went live on Tuesday, and Todd-Malmlov said the agency is also working with insurance brokers and an “assister network” that can help people seeking to enroll. Todd-Malmlov said MNsure will be tracking activity for both the website and call center during the next few weeks.

Todd-Malmlov didn’t have an exact count of MNsure accounts on Friday, but she said the number of individuals and small employers who created accounts was close to 5,000. She said the MNsure call center was receiving about 1,000 calls a day. The most popular questions from callers concerned health insurance eligibility and the application process.

“We’re seeing a very equal distribution of calls from all areas of the state,” she said.

“We also continue to have a lot of online interest,” Todd-Malmlov said. She said the MNsure website had about 100,000 “hits,” or site visits on Tuesday. By later in the week, she said, the site was averaging 30,000 to 50,000 hits an hour.

Customers need a MNsure account, which verifies their identity, before they can purchase insurance through the market, Todd-Malmlov said. However, in Minnesota customers can still comparison-shop on the market anonymously, she said.

However, technical problems created difficulties for many Minnesotans this week. Todd-Malmlov said the third most common type of questions posed to call-center workers concerned problems with the MNsure website not being able to verify consumers’ identities. On Tuesday, MNsure faced problems from a faulty computer server. On Thursday and Friday, problems with the federal service verifying customers’ identities also prevented many people from enrolling. On Friday morning, a message on MNsure’s website told consumers to wait two hours before trying to enroll again. Todd-Malmlov said those issues were mainly resolved by Friday afternoon.

“Our IT staff has been working very hard this week,” she said.

Todd-Malmlov said MNsure would be releasing more information about enrollment statistics on Oct. 16.

MNsure open enrollment for individuals, families and small employers runs through March 31, 2014. People looking for insurance coverage effective by Jan. 1 have until Dec. 15 to enroll.