Minnesota insurance shoppers report mixed experiencesOfficials with Minnesota’s new online health insurance marketplace said the system was running smoothly Wednesday on its first full day of operation after a bumpy start the day before. Shoppers themselves reported mixed experiences.
By: Steve Karnowski, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Officials with Minnesota’s new online health insurance marketplace said the system was running smoothly Wednesday on its first full day of operation after a bumpy start the day before. Shoppers themselves reported mixed experiences.
Consumers created more than 2,500 accounts by midafternoon Wednesday, MNsure spokeswoman Jenni Bowring-McDonough said. MNsure expects figures “at a later date” for how many people actually have enrolled for coverage, she said. The website was averaging 2,000-3,000 concurrent users and 30,000-50,000 hits per hour, she said, and MNsure’s call center received more than 400 calls as of 2 p.m.
State- and federally run health insurance exchanges that are key to the Obama administration’s care overhaul went live across most of the country Tuesday morning. But MNsure officials decided to delay its launch until the afternoon so they could run additional tests to see if it properly connected with federal computer systems and to make sure the connections were secure. Many early visitors to the MNsure website had trouble creating accounts, which was traced to a server problem that was fixed later Tuesday.
Among the still-frustrated shoppers Wednesday was David Berge, who had been hoping for some fast answers. The 31-year-old pastor, who’s married with two young children, moved back to Minnesota in August to plant a church in Minneapolis, and his current high-deductible policy runs only through Dec. 31.
“I’m anxious to see what the insurance is going to look like for my family at the beginning of the year,” Berge said. “That’s a big unknown right now. I want to figure that out as soon as possible so we can begin planning as soon as possible.”
Berge said he was stymied when he tried to create an account under his name Tuesday because the system couldn’t verify his identity. It let him create an account in his wife’s name, but got error messages when he tried to enter data about his student loans and other information the system needed to determine his eligibility for financial assistance.
“I was stopped dead in my tracks at that point. ... I probably tried it 10 times yesterday and this morning,” he said.
Things went much more smoothly for AmandaJean Beaulieu, 30, a Minneapolis paralegal, who celebrated MNsure’s debut by tweeting late Tuesday night: “I love being an INSURABLE human being again!”
Beaulieu said Wednesday she was deemed uninsurable after she suffered a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in her lung — in 2009. She said she still needs expensive tests to make sure her lungs are clear and her heart is functioning properly. While she was eventually able to buy an affordable policy on her own, she set up an account with MNsure and started shopping Tuesday night to see what other options might be available. The process took only 10 to 15 minutes, she said, and the only errors were her own.
“They’re all really good,” Beaulieu said of the gold-level plans she perused. “I will most likely buy coverage through MNsure.”
Beaulieu wasn’t quite ready to lock in a plan Wednesday, but Mitch Grussing was. The 27-year-old self-employed music teacher from St. Paul said he tried numerous times before he finally succeeded — he thinks. The site told him his application had been received, though he didn’t immediately get any email confirmation.
Grussing has a pre-existing condition he declined to give, but said it had forced him to get by with a plan that carried a bigger premium and higher deductible than he wanted. He chose a platinum-level plan with a $1,000 deductible — half of his current deductible — and a premium that’s $35 less than his current $215 a month.
“It’s going to be a much better plan than what I have now, so I will definitely be saving some money,” he said.
High demand nationwide
Nationally, the pressure is on for the federal government and states running their own health insurance exchanges to get the systems up and running after overloaded websites and jammed phone lines frustrated consumers for a second day as they tried to sign up for coverage using the new marketplaces.
In some ways, the delays that persisted Wednesday were good news for President Obama and supporters of his signature domestic policy achievement because the difficulties showed what appeared to be an exceptionally high level of interest in the overhauled insurance system. But if the glitches aren’t fixed quickly, they could dampen enthusiasm for the law at the same time Republicans are using it as a rallying cry to force most of the federal government to shut down. About 4.7 million unique visitors logged in to the healthcare.gov website on Tuesday.
The bumpy debut has the hallmarks of a technology project that may have rushed to meet the Oct. 1 deadline, said Bill Curtis, chief scientist at CAST, a software quality analysis firm, and director of the Consortium for IT Software Quality, which develops standards.
“When you are in a rush, you typically make a lot of mistakes and you don’t have time to test them all out,” he said.
High volume can also expose software flaws that were not detected in testing, Curtis said, like the recurring problem consumers encountered trying to set up accounts on the federal site. Drop-down menus that were supposed to provide security questions did not work.
As new health insurance markets went live around the country, the federal call center also received 190,000 calls.