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Act now on insurance

DETROIT LAKES — MNsure got off to a rocky start last year, but Minnesota’s health coverage website has improved considerably and people no longer need to fear computer glitches or long wait times on a telephone help line, according to MNsure Media Relations Coordinator Jenni Bowring-McDonough.

“It is a world of difference this year over last year,” she said. “The average wait time is about a minute, sometimes less.” (The MNsure contact center number is 855-366-7873.)

However, those wait times will increase as the Feb. 15 deadline approaches to get commercial health insurance starting March 1.

“The wait times will go up, but not anywhere near what it was last year,” she said.

One key reason is that the MNsure website is working much better, so most calls now are questions about MNsure insurance coverage. Last year a lot of people were calling for software support after encountering technical problems with the website, said Bowring-McDonough.

Another key reason is that MNsure now has 300 people working in its call center. When the site launched last year, just 25 people worked in the call center, although that number grew as the signup deadline approached, she said.

“We have over 105,000 people enrolled through MNsure so far, so people are getting through,” she said.

As of Thursday, that included 44,130 enrolled in a commercial health insurance plan, 17,506 who qualified for MinnesotaCare, and 44,308 who qualified for the Medical Assistance program.

MNsure “assistors” have been a great help, she said. They include navigators, who help guide people through the system, but stop short of recommending a plan, and brokers, who sell insurance and are qualified to advise customers on insurance through the MNsure site.

“It’s free to talk to both brokers and navigators,” said Bowring-McDonough. “You’ll be in good hands with either. You’ll get expert advice.”

This past year, she added, “our brokers and navigators have been partnering up,” with brokers referring customers to navigators for enrollment in public programs like MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance.

Brokers and navigators are listed on the MNsure website under “find an assistor,” and the list is updated daily, said Bowring-McDonough.

“You can search by county, city or spoken language, like Spanish,” she added.

With the Feb. 15 enrollment deadline less than three weeks away, people should “enroll now while the wait times (for phone help) are a minute or less,” Bowring-McDonough said. “Don’t wait until Feb. 15.”

While most calls are now from people seeking clarification on different aspects of the MNsure program, there are still technical glitches that can occur during the registration process.

“If there’s an error on the application process, they will need help to change the application,” she said. “We partner with you to get the information in accurately. It’s an important application. We want to make sure it’s accurate.”

The MNsure system is not perfect, she added. “If a problem rears up, we are able to get you through and get you coverage.” But things will go a lot more smoothly if you don’t wait until the last minute.

Those who fail to carry health insurance will pay an increasingly steep fine at federal income tax time. That’s the stick, built into the Affordable Care Act, from whence MNsure gets its authority.

Open enrollment for 2015 MNsure coverage started Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 15.