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Deadline nears for MNsure enrollment

WILLMAR — With days to go before a Dec. 15 deadline, enrollment on the MNsure health insurance exchange is proceeding with few or no issues.

"We are really having a smooth open enrollment," said Nate Clark, MNsure chief executive.

As of Wednesday, 104,000 Minnesotans had signed up for individual health insurance coverage, a number Clark said was "well ahead of where we were at this time last year."

The last day to enroll for coverage that begins Jan. 1 is Dec. 15. The final day of open enrollment is Jan. 13, almost a full month longer than the open enrollment period for the federal health insurance exchange.

Clark anticipates total enrollment to end up similar to last year at 116,000.

Ongoing investments in the MNsure website, technology interfaces and the help center appear to be paying off with an enrollment process that has been trouble-free for most consumers, he said.

Phone calls to the assistance center have been down this season, Clark noted. "We think that's probably an indication folks understand the process," he said.

It may also reflect that the system, which got off to a rocky start five years ago, is now functioning well, he said.

One of the most welcome pieces of news for MNsure shoppers is that rates are stabilizing. Statewide, consumers are seeing decreases ranging from 7 percent to 27 percent for coverage purchased through MNsure. The rate for the benchmark plan in Kandiyohi County is decreasing 20 percent for 2019.

Between the lower prices and tax subsidies for eligible enrollees, "folks are finding they're able to save money," Clark said.

Even if they have decided to stick with their existing coverage and automatically renew, consumers should do some comparison shopping on the MNsure website to make sure they're getting the best deal possible, he urged.

For those waiting until the final days to sign up for coverage through MNsure, Clark has this advice: "Don't put it off."

Wait times at the MNsure telephone hotline have been averaging 30 seconds but callers may find themselves on hold for a longer time if they enroll at the last minute, he warned. "We get high volumes of calls around deadline day."

Certified navigators are available at help centers around the state to offer free in-person assistance, Clark said. "They can help them understand the options. We know it can be complicated."

The fate of Minnesota's reinsurance provision, enacted by the Legislature in 2016 to provide relief for skyrocketing premiums in the individual market, will loom large this year. Unless the protections can be extended by legislators this coming year, they will expire at the end of 2019, creating uncertainty once more for consumers.

"Reinsurance is one of the tools that really helped manage insurance costs," Clark said. He said MNsure officials hope to get involved in any efforts this coming year to help keep rates affordable.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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