MNsure picks up speedAfter getting off to a slow start, MNsure — the state’s health insurance exchange — seems to be picking up momentum a little more than a month since its Oct. 1 startup.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Count Lynn Newberg as a fan of the new health insurance marketplace, at least when it comes to Minnesota’s version of the reform effort.
“I have probably six choices that are all infinitely better, financially, than what I’ve been doing,” the self-employed early childhood educator said Wednesday.
After getting off to a slow start, MNsure — the state’s health insurance exchange — seems to be picking up momentum a little more than a month since its Oct. 1 startup.
About 10,940 people have signed up for health insurance so far, officials said Wednesday, and the number who enrolled nearly tripled from the first two weeks to the second two weeks.
Newberg isn’t yet among the enrolled, but she’s a satisfied customer nonetheless.
The News Tribune first profiled Newberg, the owner-operator of the Lakeview Montessori School in Duluth’s Endion neighborhood, just before the exchanges opened.
Newberg said she was concerned at the time because she hadn’t been getting answers to her questions. She has a modest income and medical needs dictated by her Type 1 diabetes, and this year she has faced about $1,000 per month in health care expenses.
She was frustrated by her early experiences with MNsure. But in the month since, Newberg has linked up with Megan Halena, one of the so-called navigators trained to help people through their options under the online insurance marketplace.
Halena, who works out of Community Action Duluth, is one of 12 navigators working under the auspices of Insure Duluth, a coalition of agencies serving Duluth, Hermantown and Proctor.
“She’s my hero,” Newberg said.
During a roundtable interview with a few navigators and supervisors on Tuesday, Halena recalled the meeting with a smile.
“She was crying with happiness — I mean literally,” Halena said. “She was hugging me.”
What Newberg learned, with Halena’s help, was that she qualifies for Medical Assistance, which means she wouldn’t pay premiums. She’s waiting for more details before committing to that route, she said. But even if she chooses the top-grade “platinum” plan under MNsure, her monthly costs would be cut in half.
Newberg’s experience matches two aspects the navigators say several people are discovering:
“I’ve seen several of our small-business owners that actually have qualified for (Medical Assistance), said Layla Lang, who works with small businesses and their employees through Generations Health Care Initiatives, in downtown Duluth.
Of 35 people she has worked with so far, only two have not qualified for some form of assistance, Lang said. She urged people to the MNsure website, set up an account and click on the link that says “Apply for financial assistance.”
“There were people coming in, husband and wife, expecting to pay $700 to $1,000 a month,” Lang said. “It depends on your age, but they were finding plans for half that amount.”
One thing that’s not clear is whether MNsure is achieving the original goal of insuring the uninsured. That’s not immediately clear because MNsure isn’t asking about previous coverage, executive director April Todd-Malmlov said on Wednesday.
Both Lang and Halena said they’ve seen few people in the uninsured category.
“I’m seeing more underinsured people than uninsured people,” Halena said.
But Insure Duluth is just starting efforts to reach out to the uninsured, said Elizabeth Olson, program officer for Generations. That includes a door-to-door canvass of Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood set to begin next week, she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.