MNsure Call Center Bogs Down as Deadline Looms

Updated: 03/31/2014 2:57 PM By: Jennie Olson

Loretha Cager talks with an applicant at MNsure's call center in St. Paul Monday.
Loretha Cager talks with an applicant at MNsure's call center in St. Paul Monday.
Photo: Photo: AP/Ann Heisenfelt

The call center for Minnesota's health insurance marketplace is reaching capacity and some callers aren't getting through to agents as the midnight open enrollment deadline approaches.

MNsure officials say the call center logged more than 9,600 calls by noon Monday. MNsure says that's putting a strain on the phone system. The average wait time as of about 1 p.m. was 18 minutes, and the time on hold is expected to increase throughout the day.
Exchange officials say people who can't get through or have difficulty enrolling online should fill out an enrollment attempt form on MNsure's home page. MNsure will contact them later to complete the enrollment process.
Those who miss the deadline but make a good-faith effort to enroll will get more time and escape a financial penalty.
This year, the penalty would be 1 percent of your annual household income or $95, whichever is higher. Small businesses that are buying coverage through MNsure are exempt along with people who have had a life-altering event, like having a child.

If you’re enrolling with MNsure, coverage kicks in May 1 if you meet the March 31 deadline. If you miss that deadline, the next chance to sign up is in November.

MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said Sunday that the website had been stable throughout weekend and the call center was adequately staffed.

Despite claims from MNsure officials, University of Minnesota political analyst Larry Jacobs tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the MNsure website is "not working properly.” Jacobs has watched MNsure progress over the last six months.

"MNsure and its supporters had a heart attack in the fall about whether the program would work,” he said. “It survived the heart attack, but now it faces a very severe cardiological disease."

Jacobs says Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers know they have to fix it before the next enrollment period, which starts just weeks before the fall elections.

"The system still does not work," Jacobs said. "The computer system, the web page and the enrollment process – in terms of the backroom operation – is the way it was when it started, not working."

MNsure CEO Scott Leitz, has to answer why it's not working in front of Congress on Wednesday.

If the troubles continue, Jacobs says state leaders should consider shutting it down temporarily. Jacobs added, "Go to the Federal Exchange for eligibility and enrollment, and allow Minnesota to rebuild the web page that MNsure needs."

Going into the final weekend, more than 152,000 Minnesotans had enrolled in coverage through MNsure as of Friday. The exchange plans to hold more than 50 sign-up events across the state Monday.

See more about the deadline here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.