MNsure still struggling to get tax forms sent

Staff members for Minnesota's health insurance exchange told the agency's board Wednesday that they are still struggling to finish the overdue tax documents that thousands of clients should have received more than a month ago.

The year-end 1095-A tax forms have frustrated MNsure staffers and delayed 2015 tax filing for thousands of people who purchased private health plans through the exchange. MNsure says it tried to use an automated system to pull together data to generate the tax documents.

Where's the accountability? ... I mean, where is the accountability when we get to this point where we just can't do what we said we were going to do and what we know we have to do?

More than six in 10 people who should get the forms have received them, said Allison O'Toole, MNsure's CEO. She told the board another batch will be sent soon.

But she added, "We don't know how many additional forms will be mailed early next week. What I do know is that we will not have 100 percent of the forms sent out before March 15."

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O'Toole said she is confident all those who need the forms will have them by next month's tax filing deadline. Those who need the form cannot file their 2015 tax return without it. They include many people awaiting tax refunds. Among them is Kelly Davidson, who's counting on getting $6,000 back and expected to have the cash on hand weeks ago to cover some spring start-up costs on her small farm in southern Minnesota. Davidson that having her refund in limbo is stressing her out and keeping her up at night. "I lose sleep, quite frankly, because I get anxious and wonder, and then I have to shuffle and move paperwork around and make different plans," she said.

With no refund in sight, Davidson said, she's had to tap savings and her credit cards to buy almost 1,000 chickens and 3 tons of feed.

And at this point, she's worried that her tax form might not arrive before the April 15 filing deadline.

MNsure needs to be held more accountable, she said. "This is just incompetence as far as I am concerned."

MNsure board member Phil Norrgard expressed similar sentiment about the 1095-A debacle.

"Where's the accountability?" he asked. "I mean, where is the accountability when we get to this point where we just can't do what we said we were going to do and what we know we have to do?"

Staffers said the system needs to take into account premium payments month by month. Doing so for thousands of residents has proven more complex than anticipated.

The board also passed a preliminary 2017 budget and three-year financial plan.

A board working group laid out new projections that have the exchange ending the fiscal year June 30 with a bank balance 6.5 times the original estimate. That surplus stems from savings on administration, communications and marketing and customer service, which more than offset a decline in revenue.

The forecast assumes that MNsure will wean itself from hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grant money, and that it will spend a lot less.

The forecast includes fewer new enrollees in 2017 and 2018 — 15,000 fewer in each of the two years. That's half of previous projections. Tom Forsythe, a member of MNsure's budget working group, said that's a good thing.

"I've used this analogy about fish in the lake," he said. "Relative to the uninsured, there are fewer uninsured, fewer fish in the lake, and therefore we can expect to catch fewer. But that's actually a sign of success because we've had significant progress."

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the uninsured rate plunged from more than 8 percent in 2013 to less than 4.5 percent last year.

The MNsure board hopes to finalize its 2017 budget in late spring.