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Problems using MNsure? Officials urge patience

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MNsure website
The MNsure website went online Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, but not without problems.
MPR Photo

Complaints about the state's new online marketplace for health insurance, MNsure, are continuing as consumers ran into difficulty creating accounts for a second day. 

Meanwhile, MNsure officials say that consumers have created more than 2,500 accounts, but won't say how many of those users actually enrolled in a health plan. 

Frustration about the enrollment glitches is spreading to the health insurance industry and social service providers,  where officials are raising concerns that prolonged problems may reduce overall enrollment. 

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Tony Yanni, a financial counselor at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, who helps patients find health insurance, is among those worried. He says he met the perfect candidate for MNsure plans, a woman in her mid-50s, whose income is a little too high to qualify for free or low cost government coverage who wanted to enroll in a commercial plan through MNsure. The woman tried to log on to MNsure several times at home Tuesday but was unsuccessful. So after a medical appointment Wednesday, she asked Yanni to help her.  Together they ran into the same problem she experienced from home: The site would only let her get so far and then threw up a roadblock.

"So what I've asked her to do is to stick with me until we find a plan for her," Yanni said. "What she's going to do is call me back next week. We're going to try it again to price out a plan."

Yanni and the patients he helps are not alone.  On news and social media sites, other consumers have been venting about going on the MNsure site, only to get so far.  On Tuesday afternoon when MNsure went live, officials said a faulty server was to blame, and was fixed.  Now executive director April Todd-Malmlov says the main problem is out of MNsure's hands, because it's a federal security requirement.

"If you go through the process three times and it doesn't work, you have to wait a week to be able to go back in," she said, describing a policy that may not have been widely understood, even though Todd-Malmlov says it is mentioned on the MNsure site. 

She says heavy traffic overloading a key federal data hub is another problem because state exchanges must use that system to verify an applicant's income status and citizenship.   

Scott Keefer with Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota calls the overall experience of MNsure and the other state insurance marketplaces "clunky."

"I think with that clunky experience comes concerns as to whether enrollment is going to go as smoothly, and as people are going to get in as much as we would like to see because we want to see every Minnesotan that's eligible for premium tax credit assistance to get into the reform market," Keefer said.

MNsure's challenges reflect the experience of consumers in other states with their own online marketplaces. 

In California, home to 15 percent of the nation's uninsured, officials pulled the enrollment portion of the Covered California site down overnight for emergency upgrades. It was restored midmorning Wednesday, and 7,770 people had started applications by then, one officials said.

At the federal site, used by consumers who live in states that opted not to create their own marketplace, survival tips were posted for aggravated consumers after 4.7 million unique visitors logged in to the healthcare.gov website on Tuesday. As new health insurance markets went live around the country, the federal call center also received 190,000 calls.

  In Minnesota, Todd-Malmlov acknowleges that the system hasn't worked ideally but says the problems are just temporary start-up hitches. And people have until the end of March to enroll.

"I would say this is a relatively small issue.  I know we have people that do want to get in right away but they have a few months and get their accounts set up and get their coverage through," Todd-Malmlove said.

Dannette Coleman at Minnetonka-based Medica hopes consumers will be patient, and understand that a project of this size will take time and  won't work flawlessly out of the gate.   But she also worries that people may not respond that way.

"What we don't want to happen is we don't want to have people go to MNsure find that it's not working as they expected it to work and then not come back," Coleman said.

And that concern is not limited to people selling insurance. Hennepin County Medical Center financial counselor  Yanni echoed those concerns for his clients.

"I just don't want people to get discouraged, give up and say 'oh I'll check next month and then end up forgetting about it," Yanni said.

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MPR reporter Catharine Richert contributed to this story.

The Associated Press contributed national information to this story.