Important Minn. health insurance deadline approaches at midnight

Minnesotans who want to sign up for health coverage to begin New Year's Day have until midnight Tuesday to select a plan through the state's online insurance marketplace, MNsure.

Meanwhile, officials report enrollment jumped by about 15,000 in less than two weeks. But they also say ongoing technical problems persist.

Interim CEO Scott Leitz says MNsure officials are calling at least 2,000 individuals who are stuck in the process of trying to obtain coverage through the marketplace. But he says staff may not be able to reach every single individual by the end of the day. His advice: consumers may want to talk to insurers directly about obtaining January coverage.

"We obviously want folks to come in and use the system and prefer to have them do so," he said. "But if they're getting nervous, haven't heard from us, and are concerned about Jan. 1 coverage, that is something that we at least want to provide as a piece of information to individuals."

Leitz also acknowledged that website troubles remain, leading to longer calls to the hotline, and longer wait times. On Monday, the call center got overwhelmed because it exceeded its maximum 300 calls at a time and some callers got busy signals.

Even with the website and call center waits, some Minnesotans have been able to sign up for Jan. 1 coverage.

MNsure's latest numbers show about 53,000 individuals were in the enrollment process as of December 27. That's up from about 39,000 less than two weeks before and includes those who've signed up for government health coverage such as Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare as well as commercial health plans. Consumers aren't technically enrolled until they pay their premium.

MNsure chairman Brian Beutner says that while today marks the deadline for Jan. 1 coverage, consumers have until March 31 to obtain a plan and avoid a penalty under the health care law:

"Six months is almost unheard of in the rest of the world for an open enrollment period, and it's exactly that. If you currently don't have insurance, Jan. 1 is not a drop dead date for you. Getting coverage on Feb. 1 is certainly an improvement from where you are today."

While Minnesotans have until tonight to sign up for January coverage through MNsure or directly through insurance companies, payment must be received by Jan. 10. That means if you sign up but don't pay in time, you won't be covered in January.

And there's another deadline to keep in mind: Minnesotans have until Jan. 15 to obtain health coverage that starts Feb. 1.

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