MNsure says its work is 'paying off' for consumers

MNsure says it has reduced call center wait times and the number of pending applications for health insurance.

The state's online health plan marketplace was beset by technical problems that hampered enrollment for months. The agency, however, says hold times averaged three minutes in mid-February, down from an hour in December.

The decline follows a surge in call center staffing. On Wednesday 50 more representatives will be answering phones, bringing the total number of positions added this month to 100.

Meanwhile, the agency is whittling away at processing applications trapped in bad software. The number of pending insurance applications has fallen to 811, compared to 7,103 at year-end.

"These are cases that were caught up in the IBM/Curam module," said MNsure spokesman John Schadl. In December, Gov. Dayton wrote to the head of IBM demanding fixes to the Curam software, saying it "has significant defects, which have seriously harmed Minnesota consumers."

The website's technical problems made it difficult and often impossible for people to enroll online. Those online obstacles are reflected in the soaring numbers of paper applications arriving at MNsure.

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In the first three months after MNsure launched last October, there were about 4,300 paper applications submitted. In the month and a half since year end, the number of paper applications has nearly quadrupled to 16,500.

Enrollment has reached 104,793, up from about 90,000 earlier this month. Most Americans have to sign up for health coverage by March 31st or face a tax penalty.

"The work we've been doing is paying off for consumers," said interim CEO Scott Leitz. "We have the processes and the staff in place to make sure that people can enroll before the March 31 deadline."

Enrollment so far is heavily concentrated in government-sponsored health plans. Medical Assistance (Minnesota's version of Medicaid) and MinnesotaCare together account for 73,300 or 70 percent of the individuals who have enrolled in coverage.

Applications for health insurance are also accelerating as the March 31 deadline approaches and as MNsure takes steps to address software problems that remained largely undisclosed until January. As of mid-February, MNsure had received 128,000 total applications, an increase of 78 percent since the end of December.

Editor's note: This story has been modified from the original to correct enrollment totals.