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Health exchanges open with some sputters

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s health-insurance marketplace opened Tuesday afternoon with hiccups, but a massive federal computer-based system suffered more severe symptoms for other states’ residents.

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Systems in most states were running by Tuesday night, although some users continued to report issues.

“We are very happy and pleased to be open,” MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov said Tuesday night.

Todd-Malmlov pushed a few keystrokes shortly after 3 p.m. and the system went online at mnsure.org, at one point serving 3,000 people at once. She said that during the first few hours, 100,000 people used the MNsure Web site, established for Minnesotans to compare and buy health insurance.

Computer problems stalled the opening of a new federally required web-based method to buy health insurance. And even into the evening there were reports of problems logging on to the site that serves 36 states, including all neighboring Minnesota.

In Minnesota, one computer server gave MNsure problems and kicked some users offline, Todd-Malmlov said. However, she added, that was quickly fixed.

“The system did not crash,” she said.

MNsure will be shut down from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. Otherwise, Minnesotans may go on line or call (855) 366-7873 to obtain help via telephone or in person.

More than 500 Minnesotans set up MNsure accounts in the first hour the system was operational, but Todd-Malmlov could not say how many insurance policies were purchased.

“People are very happy today,” she said. “It has been a very jubilant atmosphere.”

Things were a bit different on the federal level, which was supposed to be working Tuesday morning.

“Please wait,” the federal Web page read into the evening. “We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we’re working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!”

After several minutes, users generally were allowed to continue.

President Barack Obama said the federal site received more than 1 million visits before 7 a.m.

“We are going to be speeding things up in the next few hours to handle this demand that is more than anyone anticipated,” the president promised.

Obama said in comments on the White House steps that he long has warned there would be problems.

“Like every new law, every new product, there will be glitches,” he said.

Minnesota officials said Monday that not everything would be available Tuesday morning. They said they had to work on connecting Minnesota and federal computers before going live.

They suggested that American Indians wait a week before going online with MNsure because Indians are entitled to different policies than other Americans and not everything has been programmed into the computers for that difference.

They also said that people still are being trained to help Minnesotans and small-business owners navigate MNsure. They promised a directory of those aides will be available today.

The health exchange concept is a basic part of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. While the insurance policies may be compared and bought on line now, they do not take effect until Jan. 1.

Critics said that MNsure has not provided any assurances that public data is protected after a series of glitches in recent weeks, including a worker who mistakenly sent private information of hundreds of insurance brokers to an insurance agent.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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