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MNsure expected to launch Tuesday afternoon

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UPDATE (3:50 p.m.): 

MNsure went live around 3:30 this afternoon with tools that allow consumers to search for a health plan, and create an account to purchase one. Not all functions were available, but people are at least able to begin the process of exploring the site and shopping for a health plan.

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MNsure, the state's new health insurance marketplace, kept health plan shoppers and the curious in suspense even as health plan exchanges in other states started operating with varying degrees of success.

The MNsure website is slated to open sometime this afternoon, though officials haven't said exactly when. The delay has to do with MNsure's connection to the federal hub, a database filled with citizenship, tax and income information that will be used to determine whether someone is eligible for government programs like Medical Assistance or for federal subsidies to help buy commercial insurance.

"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.

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Even when MNsure goes 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.

However, the exchanges 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

The Minnesota system isn't without problems.

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 by Wednesday, but that will only be a sliver of the brokers, counties, agencies and non-profits who will be involved.