MNsure makes final push for health insurance sign-ups at Duluth event
Skylar Scott not only is young and invincible. He’s also happy with his new health insurance plan.
Scott was cheerfully discussing the unpopular topic of health insurance during the annual Northland Community Wellness Day at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Romano Gym.
With the enrollment deadline approaching at 11:59 p.m. Monday, a table was set up next to the vegetable-of-the-year smoothie table in the gym. Andy Hardman of the Lake Superior Community Health Center was waiting to help people such as Scott sign up via MNsure — Minnesota’s health insurance marketplace — before it was too late.
Although Hardman was happy to help all comers, MNsure’s particular emphasis in this last week was what the Obama administration calls “Young Invincibles.” The Affordable Care Act banks on young, healthy adults to buy health insurance. Because they are less likely to need extensive care than older Americans, their participation keeps the cost of insurance down for everyone. The problem is that the young, healthy group is less likely to see the need for insurance and might forgo it, even with the possibility of facing a tax penalty.
Hardman finished his training as a MNsure “navigator” in October, meaning that since then he has been sort of a roving ambassador, visiting such places as the Bent Paddle Brewing Co. and various community centers. He noticed a scarcity of young adults.
“The demographic of 20-, 30-year-olds, even young 40-year-olds, people used to not having insurance or not used to having a budget that includes paying for insurance, are people who are missing,” Hardman said.
Scott had been missing until Saturday largely because of procrastination, said his mother, Mary Scott. Knowing MNsure would be at Community Wellness Day, she strongly encouraged him to check it out.
He was glad he did. After burning through the enrollment process in 25 minutes with Hardman, Scott proclaimed himself “very happy” with the results. He couldn’t recall if his premium would be $25 or $30 per month, but he knew it would be much less than under his mother’s plan. He wasn’t sure about the deductibles, either, but reasoned that he’s healthy.
“I just hope I don’t get hurt,” Scott said.
Scott was the only person to enroll during the first two hours of the four-hour event. But Hardman helped Ingrid Lynch, 48, of Duluth make an appointment to meet with a navigator on Monday after discovering she didn’t have a document she needed with her.
Lynch and her partner, Kirk Douglas, 49, said they hadn’t realized MNsure would be at the event. Discovering it was a happy circumstance, Douglas said.
Douglas, who has insurance through his job at Cirrus, had urged Lynch to sign up before the deadline. They were getting to it so late partially because they had forgotten about it, said Douglas, who is a native of England.
And Lynch, who originally is from Germany, isn’t wild about the tax penalty on those who don’t get health insurance.
“I don’t think you should be punished for not having insurance,” she said. “I don’t go to the doctors very often. I don’t get sick very often.”
Nonetheless, Lynch said she probably would have gotten insurance even if there hadn’t been a mandate.
But Heidi Sandstad, 32, had no qualms about signing up with MNsure.
The St. Paul woman, who was visiting family in Duluth, is a full-time nursing assistant as well as a graduate student in nursing. She had been without health insurance for two years after being laid off by an employer that provided coverage.
The grad school requires her to have health insurance, Sandstad said, but she would have wanted it anyway.
“After a couple of years when you haven’t had health insurance you want to be able to feel like if I twisted my ankle that I wouldn’t be out of rent money,” she said.
Sandstad said her premium is $21 a month and her co-pay for some recent immunizations was only $3.
But in spite of being savvy with computers, Sandstad had some of the same challenges as many other people in enrolling for MNsure. She beat the Dec. 31 deadline for coverage to begin on Jan. 1, but she wasn’t certain until later in January that she actually was covered.
Along the way, she battled through numerous error messages and “a confusing process,” she said.
Hardman said that even as a navigator he often encountered “hiccups” in the system. And he’s aware that some people, despite their best efforts, might not make Monday’s enrollment deadline. He noted that an “enrollment attempt form” now pops up immediately at MNsure.org. By clicking on that, people who have tried but failed to get coverage through MNsure can apply for an extension.
WANT TO ENROLL?
For those who don’t already have health insurance, the deadline to enroll for private health insurance plans for the rest of 2014 is 11:59 p.m. on Monday.
Wisconsin residents can enroll at www.healthcare.gov.
Minnesota residents can enroll at www.mnsure.org.
In the Duluth area, call the United Way 211 number for information on how to get help enrolling from a trained navigator.
The MNsure Contact Center is open extended hours. You can call (855) 366-7873 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today and from 8 a.m. to midnight on Monday.