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MNsure outlines plans to balance budget

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MNsure outlines plans to balance budget
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

ST. PAUL -- MNsure officials laid out preliminary budget figures Wednesday under which it will sink $10 million into fixing its website this year and become self-sufficient in 2015, as required by federal law.

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Next year's $39.7 million budget does not seek additional money from the Legislature in the year ahead, but will rely on getting approval from the federal government to carry over $5 million in grants already received.

MNsure leaders say they feel confident that federal officials will allow this flexible use of a slice of the $155 million in total grants, which were earmarked to build the MNsure system and to staff and operate the agency in its first year.

Officials said they feel confident they could find additional savings in the existing budget to balance the budget if they aren't allowed to tap into the federal grants.

By law, MNsure is required to present a preliminary budget to state lawmakers by March 15.

A final budget will be offered in October. The budget was expected to be discussed at a MNsure board of directors meeting later Wednesday.

Adjustments to the current year's budget come as costs for marketing and navigators came in under budget even as enrollment numbers haven't reached anticipated levels.

To date, more than 117,000 Minnesotans have enrolled in a health plan through the MNsure website. But fewer people have used the new online marketplace to buy private insurance and more people have enrolled in public programs. The discrepancy affects the budget, because MNsure collects a fee from insurance companies based on the premium price of health plans sold on the commercial market.

Additionally, the state has had to hire 100 additional call-center operators and other staff to handle certain processes by hand as technical issues continue to frustrate some consumers and insurance companies who can't easily process information on new members.

In the current year, the state rejiggered its existing budget to come up with about $18.5 million in cost reductions, freeing up $10 million to fix underlying technology issues with its system.

That money will cover the costs of hiring a new vendor as well as overhauling the system. MNsure officials expect all technology improvements to be finished this year.

MNsure is bracing for a rush of traffic in the coming weeks as consumers face a March 31 deadline to purchase insurance or face a tax penalty. Consumers will not be able to buy private insurance until the next open enrollment period on Nov. 15.

The 2015 budget assumes that premiums will be about the same as they are this year, which are among the lowest in the nation, and uses "conservative" enrollment numbers.

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