Dayton: MNsure issues need to be fixed

The ongoing technological problems that continue to plague the state's online health insurance marketplace should have been resolved by now, Gov. Mark Dayton said today.

To obtain health insurance through MNsure by the first of the year, people need to sign up for coverage by Dec. 23 and pay by Dec. 31.

Insurers have been waiting for MNsure to provide accurate information about the consumers who have signed up for policies, but the test data MNsure has sent has contained errors. Its website also has had intermittent problems due to heavy traffic. About a dozen states run their own health care exchanges and Dayton estimates that Minnesota's performance ranks it somewhere in the middle. The governor said he understands it's a complicated project but the clock is ticking.

"There continue to be problems that are operational problems and it's two and half months now since it got started," Dayton said. "In my mind we're at the point where these kinds of snags should have been resolved."

Dayton said he has expressed his concerns to MNsure's seven-member board.

The Council of Health Plans, a trade group that represents Minnesota's health insurers, sent a letter to MNsure last Friday outlining a list of problems -- among them that MNsure sent them incomplete and inaccurate information on people who have applied for health plans.

Julie Brunner, the council's executive director, said there is a lot to finish in a short amount of time.

"Getting consumers who have enrolled with MNsure connected with the health plan that they chose, so that they know they have coverage on the first of January is everyone's number-one priority," she said.

That's also MNsure's priority, MNsure board chair Brian Beutner said.

"I think the MNsure team is probably working around the clock," he said. "When I get phone calls and emails at midnight, I know folks are working on it to make it easier for consumers to obtain affordable health care insurance."

Geoff Bartsh, Medica vice president of public policy and government relations, said he appreciates the governor's sense of urgency. He said people who have gone through the process and made a payment will be covered Jan. 1 even if MNsure is delayed in sending information to the insurance companies.

But Bartsh worries that some consumers may not have completed the application process with a payment.

"A person may feel that if they've gone and applied and asked to be invoiced that they may've actually done everything that they need to do, not recognizing that the health plan or MNsure need the actual payment before their coverage can be effective," Bartsh said.

Last Friday and Monday, the MNsure website was operating intermittently because of heavy traffic, resulting in account and application problems. The website informed consumers that were experiencing problems to visit the site at a later time.

There have also been reports of callers seeking assistance from MNsure waiting at least 20 minutes on hold, far longer than the wait times of about two to five minutes that MNsure executives promised last summer. The lengthy hold times have been a problem for at least two months and MNsure officials say they expect call volume to increase as the deadline to obtain insurance approaches.

Beutner said MNsure continues to add more staff in its call center.

MNsure also extended its website operating hours from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.