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MNsure website performance improves, legislators look at fiscal future

ST. PAUL — If you thought you were having trouble last year with the MNsure website, you were right.

The state’s health insurance exchange now has numbers that show the magnitude of website problems following its Oct. 1 launch, as well as figures to suggest the system is improving.

Two weeks into October, one out of every six clicks on the MNsure website failed to send users where they should have gone, according to figures presented Wednesday during a MNsure board meeting in St. Paul.

The 17 percent error rate in mid-October improved somewhat in subsequent weeks, but continued to be measured in double digits through late November. By the first week in December, nearly 67,000 clicks didn’t work.

But now, the error rate is more like 4 percent or 5 percent, said Scott Leitz, the interim chief executive officer at MNsure. In addition, fewer applications are stuck in the system for technical reasons, Leitz said, and wait times at the MNsure call center have moderated significantly.

“The experience now that consumers are facing is … a much better experience,” Leitz said in an interview after the board meeting. “We’re not trying to say that everything has been solved. But there are some data to indicate it is a more stable system, and it has gotten better.”

MNsure hasn’t before presented information on the frequency of website errors. Previously, average wait times at the MNsure call center provided one of the only windows on the problem, since many called for help because they couldn’t get the website to work.

In December, average call center waits regularly exceeded 1 hour, and at one point even hit the two-hour mark. Average call center waits now are running between 5 minutes and 15 minutes, Leitz said in comments Wednesday morning during a legislative oversight committee hearing at the Capitol.

MNsure expects a surge in enrollment next month as people rush to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires almost all Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. To prepare for the surge, MNsure is paying $771,000 to APAC Customer Solutions Inc. to provide a backup call center between now and April.

Fifty workers from the overflow call center started answering phones Wednesday, and another 50 are expected to start fielding calls later this month.

On pending applications, Leitz said that in late December more than 12,000 applications were stuck in a pending status for any of a half-dozen different reasons.

In many cases, the MNsure software couldn’t determine whether consumers qualified for a public health insurance program or tax credits to discount commercial premiums. The tally includes applications that wound up in what officials have described as a “black hole.”

Now, there are fewer than 1,000 of these stuck applications, Leitz said.

Christopher Snowbeck, St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.