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Even after January coverage deadline, MNsure struggles

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MNsure's serious problems continue even after Tuesday night's deadline for Minnesotans to sign up for coverage that would take effect Wednesday, Jan. 1. In theory, the end of the deadline rush might have resulted in a let-up in traffic on the site. But people hoping to access MNsure's website on Thursday were stymied for most of the business day. 

MNsure's site was down for several hours Thursday. John Schadl, a spokesman for the agency, said the site was unavailable from about 11:20 a.m. until about 6:30 p.m. A message on MNsure.org warned visitors that application and account services were not available.

Consumer frustration with MNsure's site is palpable. Many complaints about being stuck in the enrollment process have been posted on MNsure's Facebook page.

Consumers in MPR News' Public Insight Network reported waiting on hold for hours trying to get help from MNsure's phone staff or never receiving a reply to emails sent to the agency.

While the deadline for enrolling in coverage effective Jan.1 has come and gone, there are several important dates ahead. 

People who enrolled in a commercial health plan by Dec. 31 have until the close of business Friday, Jan. 10 to get payment to MNsure. "Any medical care after Jan. 1 will be covered if this payment deadline is met," the agency said in a news release Thursday. The payment deadline for coverage starting in February is Jan. 15.

Under the Affordable Care Act, uninsured people have until March 31 to secure coverage and avoid a tax penalty. 

Health insurers say they are getting a lot of calls from people wondering if their policy is in effect and are seeking help to understand their coverage. 

Officials at the Department of Human Services, which handles the Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs, say most calls have come from people who want to verify they have coverage after sending in their enrollment information but who are still waiting for confirmation.

Despite the problems people are having securing health insurance coverage, there were no major reports of people having difficulty securing actual medical care. 

Jeff Lindoo from Midwest-based Thrifty White Pharmacies said his company's stores haven't experienced problems with people not being able to get what they need. However, Lindoo said people who have lacked insurance until now are unlikely to show up at a pharmacy in the early days since they'd first need to see a doctor to get a prescription. 

Meanwhile, pharmacies, including the bigger chains, said they're willing to do what they can to make sure people get the medication they need, even if their insurance status is in limbo. For instance, those with valid prescriptions may be able to get a few days worth of medicine while they wait for confirmation from their plans.

MNsure is planning a partial website outage for this weekend to accommodate work on the website. Account and application services will be unavailable Saturday, Jan. 4, and Sunday, Jan. 5, but consumers will still be able to browse available plans during that time. According to MNsure, the unavailable services will be back up at 6 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 6.