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Our view: Sign up for health care; it is the law

Time is running out. If you don’t have health insurance, you have just five more days to make an attempt to change that.

And if you don’t — if you don’t at least log on and try to sign up for coverage before the end of the day Monday — you stand to be fined $95 or 1 percent of your household’s income, whichever is more, by a federal government requiring you to participate in the Affordable Care Act.

No matter how you feel about President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation, how it was enacted, its rollout woes or its requirement that all Americans have health insurance, it’s now the law. That means signing up and avoiding a penalty — and knowing that if you’re sick or injured, you’re covered.

In Minnesota, anyone without insurance can go to www.mnsure.org, Minnesota’s state-created insurance exchange. A few online questions tell you whether you qualify for the government’s Medicaid or MinnesotaCare programs or for private insurance with a subsidy. If not, you’ll be able to pick from private plans.

This is assuming, of course, the website is working — and it now is, at least better than it had been, MNsure Interim CEO Scott Leitz assured members of the News Tribune editorial board during an interview Monday in Duluth.

“We’ve been working really hard … to improve the customer experience and make the website better,” Leitz said. “We’ve made a lot of strides on that.”

In December, 30 percent of website visitors weren’t even able to get through the initial questions without the site bogging down and failing. Now, 99 percent of web visitors have no problems; it’s pretty much only those whose information doesn’t jibe who are being flagged. Likewise, in November, not going where you clicked was happening 17 percent of the time. That error rate is now down to about 4 percent.

“So there’s measurable improvement,” Leitz said. “We acknowledge that we still have a ways to go, but I think what we’re trying to say to Minnesotans is, ‘Come back in, it’s getting better; you’re likely going to be able to get through the system and get coverage now.’ ”

And if you can’t, you’re more likely to get help now when you call MNsure. Wait times were an hour and 15 minutes long in December, resulting in 77 percent of callers hanging up in frustration before getting through to one of about 75 MNsure call-center workers. About 100 more workers have since been added, along with a vendor to run things, Leitz said. Wait times are now less than 2 minutes. On Friday the wait time was 18 seconds.

With the improvements, Minnesotans are signing up, even if a bit slowly. The Minnesota exchange was expected to serve 1.3 million people by the end of 2016. Only about 136,000 — just 10 percent of the goal — have signed up so far. But Leitz is quick to point out that the projection included 750,000 Minnesotans on public programs like Medicaid and MinnesotaCare. When they re-enroll through MNsure, the exchange’s numbers will swell, he said.

Leitz preferred talking about a different, shorter-term achievement.

“We set a goal at the beginning of open enrollment of enrolling a little over 135,000 Minnesotans into coverage during the open-enrollment period. So this was back in October,” he said. By Tuesday, MNsure had surpassed that goal.

“We’re not done yet,” Leitz said in a statement. “There are (five) days left in open enrollment, and we want to make sure every Minnesotan has the ability to obtain health insurance coverage.”

When it comes to health care reform, reaching any goal is cause for celebration, it seems. But Minnesota is like the rest of the country in falling short of signing up younger adults who tend to be healthier and cheaper to insure. Their premium payments are key to making the health exchanges work. Theirs is the money coming in to pay for older Americans whose care is the money going out.

MNsure officials call these younger people the “young invincibles” because that’s how many of them see themselves, meaning they don’t see much need to buy health insurance. MNsure has been reaching out to them in earnest, contacting them in bars, brewpubs and coffee houses and on college campuses. MNsure even has recruited their moms to send them e-cards to urge them to sign up.

“We want to keep working that group,” MNsure Director of Communications Joe Campbell said. “They’re important.”

So is making sure all Americans have health insurance. That was the laudable goal of the Affordable Care Act, which, whether you embraced it, loathed it or have been frustrated by its less-than-stellar rollout, is now still the law. As such, it needs to be followed and obeyed.

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