It's a new year, but MNsure continues to struggle with old problems involving its website and call center.
The application and account services portion of the state health exchange website was down Thursday afternoon until 6:30 p.m. for technical reasons as people continued trying to acquire health insurance. The trouble connecting with MNsure was particularly annoying for consumers who still aren't clear whether they have coverage.
Meanwhile, the average wait time for people calling MNsure for help Thursday was 62 minutes. The call center had received more than 2,500 calls as of 5 p.m.
The first website error was reported about 11 a.m. Thursday, and the application and account portion of the website went down about 20 minutes later, said John Schadl, a MNsure spokesman. It was still down after 5 p.m. Thursday
"A team is working to resolve the problem, but we do not have an estimate of when it will be repaired," Schadl wrote in an email. "It is a networking problem with the state's servers."
For weeks, consumers have been frustrated by the combination of website glitches and lengthy waits at the MNsure call center.
Problems persisted Tuesday as a New Year's deadline approached for people trying to obtain coverage that took effect Wednesday. There was no such looming deadline Thursday, because users who sign up for a private health plan through MNsure by Jan. 15 will have coverage that starts Feb. 1.
MNsure is the state-run health exchange designed to implement the federal Affordable Care Act, which mandates that almost all Americans have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. The law includes a three-month grace period, so people can sign up for coverage until the end of March to avoid a penalty.
To improve performance of the MNsure website, the application and account services on MNsure are scheduled be down on Saturday and Sunday. The weekend shutdown was planned for maintenance, Schadl said, and is not related to the website problem Thursday.
Brianna Deihl, 32, of Minneapolis said Thursday that she has had enough.
After hours on the phone in recent weeks trying to figure out why her MNsure application still is listed on the health exchange website as "pending," Deihl renewed her private insurance policy for January, she said. It was a costly decision, Deihl said, because the monthly payment has become much more expensive with changes mandated by the federal health law.
Deihl said she had been excited to use MNsure to find more affordable coverage for 2014 as well as more comprehensive benefits. As a freelance filmmaker, she has purchased individual health insurance policies for several years and sometimes found the only way to make monthly payments affordable was to settle for skimpy benefits.
But Deihl has been stymied by weeks of not being able to decipher what, if any, coverage she can get through the health exchange.
"I had to take matters into my own hands, which means not using MNsure," she said.
In late December, MNsure officials began suggesting that people who continued to have problems with the health exchange go directly to insurance companies for coverage. Through the end of March, people can try MNsure again to see if they might qualify for tax credits that cut the cost of private coverage or for an income-based public health insurance program.
As of Dec. 27, about 53,000 people had signed up for private or public coverage through MNsure. Those buying a private plan must submit their first month's premium to health plans or MNsure by 5 p.m. Jan. 10.
Until the premium is paid, consumers might be asked to pay out-of-pocket for covered services. Those who don't meet the payment deadline won't have coverage.
State officials have been sending ID cards to people who have used MNsure to determine eligibility for the Medicaid and MinnesotaCare public health insurance programs. Beneficiaries who lack cards can show their doctor or pharmacy a copy of an eligibility notice mailed earlier.
(c)2014 Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)