MNsure after 2 weeks: How's it working?

After a few initial stumbles Minnesota's online insurance marketplace appears to have largely recovered.

But the reviews from many organizations trying to enroll consumers in MNsure are still mixed.

Elana Gravitz, Program Manager at Hennepin County Human Services Department sums up how many community organizations view MNsure, with a quick assessment: "Sometimes it works," she said. "Sometimes it doesn't work."

MNsure officials say the on-again, off-again problems stem from the federal data hub, that insurance marketplaces such as MNsure must use to verify a person's income through the IRS. In recent weeks, the hub has been overwhelmed. But when it is working, Gravitz said, it automates the otherwise cumbersome enrollment process in Medicaid.

MNsure 101: Your essential guide

"It's a great thing for the county," she said. "What it means is that eventually as the system gets smoother and smoother, we'll be able to have the workers spend the time with clients that have more complex issues and questions than the folks who have more straightforward cases might be able to take care of things on their own."

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Open Cities Health Center in St. Paul, which has a large clientele of non-English speaking patients has also had mixed results.

Duachi Her, who is certified by MNsure to help people enroll in health plans, said the site seems pretty straightforward. But so far, she hasn't been able to enroll anyone because of problems with the MNsure site in creating accounts.

On the other hand, Her said, there hasn't been a lot of interest. She said not many of the organization's clients even know about MNsure.

"I haven't heard much about it in the community," Her said. "Not a lot of people know about it, especially the Hmong community or the Somali community. We haven't had much education on it."

MNsure officials have lined up social service organizations focused on Somali and Hmong Americans to provide outreach to those populations as well as others. But many of the outreach groups have said they're off to a slow start, in part because they need to complete required training and become certified by MNsure.

Vanessa Vogl, benefits counseling coordinator at the Minnesota Aids Project, said workers there had no expectations of MNsure when it first rolled out because it was such a big project to get up and running. But she said in the last week they were not only able to create accounts on MNsure but also sign up members of one family for the different types of private and government insurance offered through MNsure.

"There's somebody enrolling into Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare and then a qualified health plan actually, so it was kind of exciting for that reason," Vogl said.

Some people were pleasantly surprised because they really didn't expect MNsure to work.

James Albrecht,a community health worker at Portico Healthnet, a non-profit that helps Minnesotans find health coverage, hasn't enrolled anyone on MNsure yet. But he said the system has surpassed his expectations anyway.

"I expected to have more tech problems. I was thinking that we'd get too many people using the system and that the system would crash and we'd be down for a couple of weeks," Albrecht said. "So I'm actually surprised that it's working as effectively as it is."

MPR News reporter Catharine Richert contributed to this report.