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MNsure Enrollment Grows, But Private Plans Lag

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Insurance sign-ups through Minnesota's health care marketplace continued to grow into February to more than 90,000 people, but enrollment continues to be weighted more toward public plans over private insurance.

MNsure released its latest enrollment measures on Wednesday, which covered mid-January through Feb. 1. By that date, more than 28,000 people had enrolled in commercial plans — an increase of about 3 percent from two weeks earlier. That amounts to only about 40 percent of the total private enrollment goal of 70,000 that MNsure hoped to reach by April 1, which is the date where people without insurance coverage start facing federal tax penalties under the health care law.

While commercial enrollment is running behind projections, enrollment is ahead of projections in Medical Assistance, the state's version of Medicaid. That's a potential problem, because private enrollments are the main source of money for funding the exchange starting next year.

"Bad news for our budget," MNsure board chairman Brian Beutner said at a meeting Wednesday, though another board member — state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson — pointed out it's good for the people getting insurance.

Beutner said hitting the 90,000 enrollment level was a good thing: "I firmly believe they have something better," he said. But he added the board would need to figure out going forward "what that means in terms of our sustainability and our budget."

MNsure has suffered a host of operational and technical challenges since its Oct. 1 launch. Agency officials told MNsure board members Wednesday that some problems have been addressed or will be soon. Wait times at MNsure's call center, which had stretched to two hours or more by the end of December, now range on most days from seven to 14 minutes, said MNsure's chief operating officer, Erik Larson.

The MNsure board also approved $700,000 to hire another new crop of call center employees, with an expectation that the need is likely to spike in March as the end-of-month deadline approaches. MNsure's interim CEO, Scott Leitz, announced that he was hiring two deputy directors of MNsure to help improve decision-making processes after a recent, independent review criticized the agency for poor management. And he said the agency was likely to issue a new private contract by the end of the month for a vendor to take on fundamental repairs to the MNsure website.

MNsure board members, while positive about the changes, also used the meeting to express a new level of frustration with the website's continued problems. Larson again confirmed that at least a small percentage of MNsure customers would be forced to enroll by paper application rather than online.

"What members got were assurances, well-scripted assurances about how this was going to be magnificent and marvelous," said board member Phil Norgaard. "We were ready to fly this thing. It was going to be so fantastic."

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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