MNsure releases enrollment numbers, still working on bugs

Nearly 3,800 people are enrolling in a health insurance plan on MNsure, according to the new insurance marketplace's executive director, April Todd-Malmlov.

But some insurers dispute that number. They say no one has completed enrollment in their plans yet as MNsure has yet to send their companies any of the personal or payment information they need to issue health insurance policies.

Most of those who have begun to enroll, or about 2,500 people, qualified for coverage through Medical Assistance, Minnesota's Medicaid program.

More than 800 people have enrolled in MinnesotaCare, a state safety-net program that aims to help people who make too much money to qualify for Medical Assistance but not enough to shoulder all the costs of a regular health plan themselves.

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The remainder, or about 400 people, are enrolling in a commercial health plan and still completing the process to provide payment, Todd-Malmlov said.

Of the nearly 12,000 Minnesotans who got as far as completing the initial insurance application on MNsure, about 8,200 were eligible for coverage under a commercial health plan. About one quarter of them had incomes low enough to qualify them for federal subsidies to help pay for a commercial health plan. Four small businesses have set up plans for their employees to pick from in December. Six are picking plans.

Todd-Malmlov said MNsure officials expected many people to apply, but few to pay for their plans this early in the game.

"Most people wouldn't pay two-and-a-half months before their coverage starts," she said.

Todd-Malmlov said that some people who want to pay now are having trouble doing so. MNsure is working to fix a bug in the payment system.

People who have picked a plan but then try to pay for it later are having trouble completing the process of paying for coverage.

Among the 400 people who still may be trying to finish is Mitch Grussing, a 27-year-old piano teacher from St. Paul who testified about his MNsure experience at a MNsure board meeting today.

Grussing said he has "no idea" how to pay for the plan he's chosen.

MNsure officials described the initial figures as enrollment numbers.

But insurers selling plans on MNsure say that enrollment isn't done until they have received an applicant's personal information and a payment and completed the paperwork to issue a policy.

None of that has happened yet.

Initially, insurers expected to receive that information from MNsure this week.

But MNsure is still working on accurate electronic transmission of enrollment information to the insurance companies. Todd-Malmlov said she hopes to have the problem solved by the end of the month.

Scott Keefer, vice president of policy and legislative affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, said it's an issue that can only go on for so long before his company's brand is hurt. He's concerned the insurer doesn't know who has enrolled in a Blue Cross plan and can't help anyone asking the company for information about their plan.

"The longer that window gets drawn out the more likely that people get frustrated," he said.

Keefer acknowledges that delays in major federal decisions about insurance exchanges may have robbed MNsure of time needed to get the transmission system ready on schedule.

But Keefer isn't sounding the alarm yet. Neither is Danette Coleman, Medica's vice president of individual and family business. Both say customers have plenty of time to pick a plan.

Buyers are "asking a lot of questions but actually making that final decision, they realize they have time," Coleman said. "There's also the reality that MNsure wasn't working as it was intended to work out of the gate and so a lot of people looked at it and saw there were problems and maybe stepped back and thought they'll come back later."