|By Christopher Snowbeck, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
During a meeting Wednesday in
Federal approval is likely, said
Meanwhile, MNsure also is seeking federal approval to change its plans for spending grant funds this year, which would allow an additional
"We're going to be deliberately prioritizing areas that will provide a better experience for our customers," Leitz said during a briefing Wednesday with reporters. "We do have to have federal approval for those re-allocations."
Enrollment in commercial plans through MNsure has fallen short of expectations due to troubles with the website and call center. While both are improving, MNsure last month lowered its enrollment projections for the number of people signing up in commercial plans.
Low commercial enrollment creates a budget problem for MNsure, because starting next year it must fund operations by withholding up to 3.5 percent of premiums sold. Operations this year are being funded by federal grants --
MNsure's website woes not only have frustrated consumers, they prompted an outside consultant in January to recommend a range of fixes. The board on Wednesday met in a private session to discuss strategies for negotiating a contract with a new prime vendor for the information technology system.
Some of the
MNsure is cutting its budget this year for marketing and communications by nearly
Savings in the navigator budget prompted consumer advocates to speak out during Wednesday's board meeting.
"We should not further punish consumers," said
But Leitz said the trim simply reflects the fact that relatively few consumers have been using navigators.
When the budget was established, MNsure expected that about 50 percent of all those buying commercial plans through the exchange would use a navigator. But only 12 percent of consumers actually have done so, Leitz said, adding that the original navigator budget also was based on high enrollment projections that haven't come true.
Even with the smaller budget number, MNsure still will have funds to significantly grow the program, he said. The new projection calls for about 25 percent of all commercial enrollees to use a navigator.
So far, about 115,000 Minnesotans have used MNsure and are in the process of obtaining health insurance coverage. The tally includes about 82,000 who are enrolling in public health insurance programs and about 33,000 signing-up for commercial health insurance.
MNsure expects a surge in activity this month as consumers rush to beat a
People who don't have coverage could be required to pay a penalty that's 1 percent of their yearly household income, or
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