Shoppers on the MNsure health insurance exchange will encounter a much improved user experience when open enrollment begins next month, officials said Wednesday.
The state-run exchange was plagued by glitches with its website and an overwhelmed call center during last year's open enrollment period.
Managers from the state's information technology agency told the exchange's board of directors Wednesday that extensive testing is underway on a retooled website. The site is 75 percent faster and boasts page-load times of two seconds, officials said. And MNsure has grown its call center staff to 300 people from 22 last year.
The 2015 open enrollment period will run from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15 -- about half as long as the 2014 open enrollment period.
The board on Wednesday adopted a balanced 2015 budget for the operation of the exchange and shifted its fiscal year to align it with those of other state agencies.
MNsure had previously budgeted according to the calendar year; other state agencies base their budgets on a fiscal year that begins July 1 and ends June, 30. Because MNsure shares resources with these agencies -- including accounting services -- the move made sense, MNsure CEO Scott Leitz said.
Leitz doesn't expect the change to cost the agency any money or result in significant savings.
"This is purely about how we monitor our finances as an organization," he said.
The board adopted a fiscal 2015 budget retroactive to July 1 that calls for spending $76 million, compared with $121 million for the original calendar year 2014 budget.
A proposed fiscal 2016 budget calling for spending nearly $46 million will be up for public comment and a final vote in December.
The exchange's fiscal year 2015 budget allocates $32.7 million for technological improvements to the MNsure system, $22.7 million for customer service and $10.7 million in administrative costs. Because of the adjusted fiscal year, the new budget covers July 2014 through June 2015.
To meet the budget, MNsure will need to enroll 50,000 new people in private health plans in 2015, which would bring total private enrollment through the exchange over the 100,000 mark. Total enrollment in both private and public health plans through the exchange currently tops 350,000.
MNsure collects a 1.5 percent fee on premiums paid by private policyholders who enrolled through the exchange. Beginning in 2015, the agency will collect a 3.5 percent fee and must be self-sustaining -- that is, fully funded without federal grant money.
The board also heard a warning that many consumers are likely to face higher premiums, partly because this year's cheapest insurer and top seller, PreferredOne, won't offer plans on MNsure. Insurance agents started getting data from PreferredOne Tuesday showing rates will increase for many people by as much as 60 percent if they keep those policies, said Heidi Michaels, president-elect of the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters. The PreferredOne policyholders who qualified for tax credits will lose them unless they switch carriers.
While rates might be higher overall, Leitz said, more financial assistance will be available. He said the best way for people to find out how much they'll have to pay next year is to check out the website during open enrollment, shop the policies and let the site calculate how much aid they can get.
©2014 Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)