MNsure aims to erase memories of disastrous start in second year

Call center representative Bee Vang
MNsure call center representative Bee Vang was one of nearly 100 staff members on hand to take questions from consumers as the exchange opened its second year of enrollment Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014.
Tim Nelson / MPR News

Minnesota's online health insurance marketplace began its second open enrollment without interruption, a marked contrast to its debut a year ago.

When the MNsure website launched in 2013, website delays and long waits for consumers who called seeking assistance frustrated and angered many people seeking a health plan.

But when the MNsure site reopened for enrollment in private health plans over the weekend, it worked largely without interruption.

MNsure CEO  Scott Leitz
MNsure CEO Scott Leitz, Nov. 17, 2014.
Mark Zdechlik / MPR News

"We successfully opened our doors on Saturday at 8 a.m. without any major issues that we are aware of," MNsure CEO Scott Leitz said. "The launch remained successful throughout the weekend."

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ā€¢ Related: First weekend of open enrollment goes smoothly

There have been a few reports of frustrated or stymied consumers, but Leitz agency officials have reason to be pleased with the operation's performance so far.

He said more than 500 people enrolled in private health insurance plans Saturday and Sunday. Those who needed telephone assistance had average wait times of just two minutes even though call center volumes over the weekend were 10 times busier than they typically are.

"We're working real hard ... to have improved the customer experience," Leitz said. "It's really incumbent on us to do that this year. We think we're on a good start to doing that ā€” a better website, more customer service agents available and a whole network, an army of people on the ground to help them."

Last year, MNsure's previous leader, April Todd-Malmlov, downplayed massive problems with the website and an overburdened call center. Eventually she resigned. After Leitz became head of the agency, MNsure hired consultants to address the problems.

The problems last year went beyond consumers who had difficulty with the exchange. Insurance carriers did not receive data they needed to issue policies in time to fulfill some orders. Information that should have been transferred electronically went to insurance companies on paper, slowing the process.

If electronic data transfer problems come up again this year, MNsure has better alternative methods to send policy information to the insurance carriers, said Julie Brunner, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, which represents Minnesota's non-profit health insurance companies.

Last year, consumers frustrated with MNsure barraged insurance carriers with complaints about the website. Brunner said that is not happening this year which she takes as a good sign that MNsure is working much better.

"We're monitoring it really closely," she said. "There's no indication at the health plan level right now that what we're seeing is inconsistent with what we're hearing from MNsure."

MNsure officials say the operation likely will face a much tougher test next month with the approach of the Dec. 15 deadline to buy coverage that takes effect Jan. 1.

But this year, the agency has improved communication with insurance carriers, aiming to head off any problems.

Brunner said MNsure officials told her the amount of time customers had to wait for help over the telephone jumped from two minutes over the weekend to seven and a half minutes on Monday. They also reported they expect to be very busy this week because nearly 30,000 renewal notices went out last week.

Rebecca Lozano, outreach program manager at Portico Healthnet in St. Paul, agrees that MNsure's operation is running well so far.

"We actually had an enrollment event on Saturday so we enrolled all day Saturday," Lozano said. "I think we saw 10 families and I don't think we had any major issues."