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Some MNsure glitches persist

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On MNsure's second day open for business, some consumers were reporting a good selection of health insurance plans on the state's new marketplace, but many continued to encounter a problem that prevented them from getting coverage. 

The glitch started with a MNsure server problem that was corrected yesterday. But agency officials now say the problem is largely out of MNsure's hands.

It stems from a security policy that bars users who make three failed attempts at creating accounts from trying again for seven days. The site also is hampered by heavy use of the federal hub, a massive database that contains personal information required to verify someone's identity.

While state officials urge patience, insurance companies that participate in the exchange already are complaining about the problems. 

Locally and nationally, the "overall [exchange] experience is pretty clunky," said Scott Keefer, vice president of Policy and Legislative Affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. "I think with that clunky experience comes concerns as to whether enrollment is going to go as smoothly" as possible.

John Nephew of Maplewood is among those who've started window shopping on the state's new health insurance exchange. He runs a small business that makes games, and is looking for a better deal on health insurance for his employees. 

"It looks to me like we can get somewhat better than what we have now for substantially cheaper with the same kind of high-deductible HSA plan that we've gotten used to and we like," Nephew said. 

Mitch Grussing, of St. Paul, said he's "very satisfied" with the individual plans. He's looking for cheaper insurance than he gets through the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, the state's safety net program for high-risk patients, and said he's found a plan that boasts a lower premium, lower deductible and good coverage.

Grussing was able to apply for the plan, but never received confirmation from MNsure that his application had been accepted. 

"Using the website has been a huge hassle in general," Grussing wrote in an email. "It's not really a big deal, since coverage doesn't start until January 1st and there'll be plenty of time to enroll, but good Lord."

Many users didn't get as far as Grussing. Kim Stevenson couldn't create an account, which is required to apply, and vented on the MPR News website. 

"Frustrating!," she wrote in response to an MPR News request for feedback on MNsure http://blogs.mprnews.org/todays-question/2013/10/have-you-tried-to-use-the-mnsure-website-what-was-your-experience-like/#comments. "I have tried 3 times in the past 24 hours to create an account. The authentication process is not working. I answered all the questions correctly and was told I couldn't be authenticated."

Organizations that are meant to help people enroll in MNsure are griping, too.

"We'll enter in the basic demographic information but then when we move to the next phase it says they're having online identify verification problems," said Tony Yanni, MNsure project manager for Hennepin County Medical Center. "So then we're kind of dead in the water." 

A PROBLEM WITH THE FEDERAL HUB

MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov said account creation has been a concern for her office over the last 24 hours.

Part of it was due to a faulty server at MNsure. But that has been fixed, she said.  The other problems are out of MNsure's hands, she said. 

The three-strikes rule is a federal requirement.  MNsure also has no control over the traffic on or capacity of the federal hub, which has been overloaded since the exchanges opened Tuesday.

Despite the glitches, 2,500 people have been able to create an account, Todd Malmlov said. She said the account issue was a "relatively small" one that will probably solve itself once use of the federal hub evens out. People have six months to enroll in a plan, she added.

"Really what we are experiencing here is just some of the first day bumps, also a lot of high traffic and volume," Todd-Malmlov. 

INSURER CONCERNS

But Keefer, of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, said glitches are troublesome because they may deter customers from coming back to MNsure later on.

Dannette Coleman, Medica's vice president of individual and family business, shares that concern.

"We don't want people to go to MNsure, find that it's not working as they expected it to work and then not come back," she said. "What we would ask is that people be patient, that they understand that something of this size is going to take some time."

Keefer also said he's worried that critical pieces of information about each plan, such as certain out-of-pocket costs, aren't prominently displayed on the site.  

"What we've tried to at Blue Cross is offer products that have clear deductibles and less co-insurance because there's a preference for that," he said. "I am worried that shoppers won't understand that they have a co-insurance obligation" and understand the total cost of the plan. 

The same goes for being able to see networks, Keefer said. MNsure users can't browse plans by doctor or clinic -- a feature Todd-Malmlov said may not be available until 2014. Minnesota Public Radio News has developed a search tool  where people can look up which plans cover visits to their doctor's clinic.

Earlier Wednesday, MNsure posted a list of insurance brokers who are ready to help people use MNsure, and Todd-Malmlov said a list of 10 "navigators" - groups that will be educating and enrolling people in MNsure - would be available by the end of the day. 

But that's just a portion of all the groups that will be able to help. Some groups tell MPR they are still waiting to be certified by MNsure.

Keefer said those helpers will be critical to MNsure's success.

"This is very different than what people have had traditional help with in health insurance," he said.