Thousands of Minnesotans without health insurance could face a fine unless they sign up for coverage by the end of this month.
With the deadline fast-approaching, the state's health insurance marketplace MNsure is making an aggressive push to sign up uninsured Minnesotans, especially young people -- so-called "young invincibles." MNsure has launched a blitz of more than a thousand events before March 31.
The interim CEO of MNsure, Scott Leitz, spoke on Morning Edition about the push to sign up uninsured Minnesotans. Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Cathy Wurzer: Young people, as you know, across the country have been slow in signing up for health insurance. Any theories as to why, even though it is now required?
Scott Leitz: Well, yeah. I think one of the things that we're doing is making sure that people understand that there is a requirement by March 31 that they have health insurance coverage. For young people, I think we did kind of anticipate that it was likely that they may be the ones who put it off to the very last moment because often times they're healthy.
They may not necessarily see the need for getting health insurance coverage, but we want to make sure they understand that without that health insurance coverage, if they have something that causes them to need to go to the hospital or to the doctor, that's very expensive, and they will have to bear the cost of that. We're working really hard this week to make sure we get out the word about the requirement, as well as the need for coverage.
Wurzer: What's the portion of young people you need in the exchange to make the economics work? How close are you to that goal?
Leitz: Well, we're working towards that goal. I think we saw initially what we anticipated, which is the population in MNsure skewed a little bit older initially, and now it's starting to shift back towards younger people. We do need though a healthy mix of people across all age brackets, including the young invincible to really make it all work. And that's why we're really focusing so heavily this week on them.
Wurzer: Seems that you're waiting until nearly the last minute to get these young people signed up.
Leitz: We've been working pretty hard throughout the entire open enrollment period to get all groups enrolled. As we look at the statistics, we do know that this is a group that we need to reach out to heavily, and that's why we're really focusing this week on doing that. We also knew they were likely the ones who were gonna be the last group to probably sign up. And so, we really were trying to focus our efforts on the time when we thought they would be most receptive to the message.
Wurzer: What would it take, Scott, to consider moving this deadline beyond the end of March?
Leitz: Well, we're really focusing on the end of March being the deadline. I think that is really where what the federal government has indicated that they don't have an intention to move the deadline. And without that ability, we're really focusing right now on the 31st being the deadline.
Wurzer: One consequence of missing your targets is that funding for MNsure itself may fall short, and as you know, there are lawmakers who are watching you closely. They are not enthusiastic about using state money to backfill any shortfalls. How worried are you about potential budget problems?
Leitz: Well, we had set an open-enrollment enrollment goal for the open enrollment period of around 135,000 Minnesotans. And we're sitting at about 128,000 right now as of Monday. So, we're on track to be able to meet our open enrollment goal. We have plans we submitted a preliminary budget to the Legislature last Friday, which was balanced and also included investments in customer improvement, such as our call center and our computer system. And so we're feeling very confident that we have a balanced budget and that we're on track to meet our enrollment goals.
Wurzer: Now we're hearing that MNsure the site itself is still having some problems processing any applications that are not very straightforward. What portion of people trying to enroll are still having difficulties with this site?
Leitz: It's a small portion. I think we do acknowledge that there are some individuals, particularly as you mentioned those with in maybe more complex family situations where a child might be on Medicaid but the parents might be on a commercial health plan. Those are more difficult situations, but we can always move people through if they let us know that they're having those problems.
Our call center is fully-staffed, we're running wait times of less than a minute as of yesterday. So we encourage people if they are having challenges, to give us a call. We can typically move them through in a fairly rapid manner.
Wurzer: Alright, so March 31, that's a pretty hard and fast deadline.
Leitz: March 31 is the deadline to have coverage. If you're not into coverage by March 31 in the commercial market, you don't have another opportunity either inside or outside MNsure to get into coverage until the fall open enrollment period which starts in November. So not only would you face a penalty of 1 percent of your income, or $95, whichever is greater, but you also don't have the ability to come back in after March 31 to get coverage if you need it.