ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — More than 50,000 Minnesotans, many who endured long wait times and other glitches with the state’s overburdened health insurance exchange, finally had coverage in place Thursday. What was less clear was how many people who wanted coverage failed to get it.
MNsure said at least 53,000 Minnesotans successfully enrolled in coverage through its marketplace by the Dec. 31 deadline. But the agency was not able to clarify the status of an additional 19,000 people who created accounts, but didn’t appear to have finalized a plan purchase.
Jenni Bowring-McDonough, a MNsure spokeswoman, said many of those 19,000 accounts could have come from “window shoppers” who decided to wait until a closer to a final end-of-March deadline for getting coverage or facing tax penalties under the new federal law. But MNsure’s interim CEO said earlier this week that at least a few thousand people who tried to buy insurance were stalled in the system by technical glitches; Bowring-McDonough was not able to say Thursday whether more of those cases were resolved by the start of the new year.
Minnesota medical providers have vowed to work with MNsure and insurance companies to make sure people suffering insurance coverage gaps would have access to needed treatment.
Bowring-McDonough said MNsure also wasn’t ready to release final pre-Dec. 31 enrollment numbers. The 53,000 and 19,000 figures were only through last Friday, meaning a likely final rush of enrollment on Monday and Tuesday were not yet accounted for.
Eileen Smith, a spokeswoman for major Minnesota insurance companies, said those companies don’t yet have information about the potentially large number of people who signed up in the final days. That means those insurers can’t yet confirm for those individuals that they have coverage that started Jan. 1.
“These unknowns, they’re unsettling for everybody,” said Smith, of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, which represents Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medica and other large providers. “But it’s the world we’re in right now.”
Payment for coverage that started Jan. 1 is due by Jan. 10. Anyone who missed the deadline but wants coverage as soon as possible has until Jan. 15 to sign up for coverage starting Feb. 1.
But problems with MNsure services continued Thursday. Application and account functions on the website, MNsure.org, were down for much of the day. Visitors were also notified those functions would be unavailable on Saturday and Sunday. Wait times to the MNsure call center continued to surpass an hour Thursday.
Despite the continuing glitches and uncertainties, groups that represent Minnesota medical providers said Thursday there were no early reports of major problems with coverage bought through MNsure. Also not apparent was a flood of people looking to use new coverage immediately. At least some of the 53,000 people reported to have signed up were previously uninsured, but MNsure wasn’t yet able to say how many.
“Certainly we are going to have patients that now have coverage, who perhaps have not been covered for years, so there may be an increased demands for the services of physicians,” said Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, president of the Minnesota Medical Association. Firkins Smith said clinics where she works in Willmar and Paynesville have not yet seen increased patient requests.
Firkins Smith said those who want to use new insurance to cover long-delayed medical needs, but aren’t sure if they have coverage, should consider a brief delay if they want to avoid unexpected expenses. But she said anyone with urgent medical needs shouldn’t think twice about getting immediate treatment.
Wendy Burt, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Hospital Association, said providers would be willing to work with patients and insurance companies to clarify coverage.
“We do expect there will be a little bit of confusion here for a few weeks,” Burt said.