Nearly 170,000 Minnesotans had secured insurance through MNsure as the Obamacare enrollment deadline passed on Monday, and exchange officials expect that number to grow as they work through a backlog of applications in limbo.
MNsure interim CEO Scott Leitz declared that Minnesota’s health insurance exchange – which faced a rocky start back in October, underwent a tumultuous leadership change in December and haltingly overcame immense technical issues in the last few months – had “turned a corner.”
Of the enrollments MNsure reported, 47,000 purchased private plans, 34,000 enrolled in MinnesotaCare and another 88,000 in Medical Assistance (Medicaid). MNsure far exceeded its public program enrollment goals, but fell short of its initial 70,000-enrollment target for private coverage.
“Good health insurance matters to everyone, but particularly to families who are living on the edge,” Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said, referring to the mushrooming public program enrollment.
MNsure officials were upbeat and continued to highlight that the exchange had far surpassed its overall forecast of 135,000 enrollments through the marketplace for the past six months.
“It is absolutely a success. We met our goal. The numbers we announce today we anticipate will go up,” Leitz said at a Tuesday press conference. “I am absolutely telling you this is a big step forward.”
Republicans continued their ongoing criticisms that MNsure is simply celebrating artificial and contrived goals. In a statement, Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, criticized Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration for “publicly hailing their efforts a ‘success’ when in reality they have failed to live up to the promises they made to Minnesotans and have done nothing this legislative session to correct their new state agency’s course.”
Officials had long expected coverage numbers to jump as the open enrollment period wrapped up. More than 17,000 people secured coverage between Friday and Monday night, including about 5,000 private plan enrollees and 12,000 public program participants. Roughly 95 percent of Minnesotans enrolling in private plans have paid for their coverage, according to MNsure estimates.
And there are roughly 36,000 Minnesotans who tried to get through MNsure – but couldn’t – and registered with the exchange to make sure they don’t face a tax penalty for not having insurance. Leitz said those Minnesotans who tried their “level best” would be contacted over the next month to finalize their coverage. It’s unclear, though, how many of those people reported a problem but then later made it through the system.
Exchange leaders were able to paint a much rosier picture of MNsure on Tuesday than in the past. Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, who sponsored the legislation last year, applauded MNsure for wresting control over health coverage from the insurance companies.
“Many Minnesotans now have affordable coverage for the first time in their lives,” Atkins said in a statement. “We’re not going back to the days of denials for pre-existing conditions or having your coverage dropped when you get sick.”
Dayton applauded the exchange, but was slightly reserved.
“MNsure has made major improvements in its functionality and customer service during the past three months,” Dayton said in a statement. “More work lies ahead to continue those improvements. However, MNsure has now demonstrated its capacity to improve the lives of many thousands of Minnesotans by offering them access to better health care at more affordable costs.”
In addition to finishing negotiations to hire a new vendor to fully fix MNsure’s IT infrastructure, officials must present its budget for 2015 to lawmakers next week.
Leitz said MNsure’s budget – which will not require additional state or federal funds to remain solvent – was based on 40,000 private plan enrollees.
The exchange is funded by a small withhold from premium payments, in addition to leftover federal grant dollars that will eventually run out. Since the exchange has topped that number of enrollees, Leitz said MNsure is confident about its fiscal solvency moving forward.
As more data becomes available, key measures like the exchange’s risk pool profile will also come into focus. Leitz said preliminary numbers show the exchange’s demographics shifting toward younger, healthier people – key to ensuring MNsure’s success.
“There’s just a lot of things that we’re going to continue to learn,” Leitz said.