MNsure navigators see last-minute surgeTuesday was the calm in the midst of the statewide storm at one of the key sites for people to enroll for health insurance via MNsure, Minnesota’s version of the insurance marketplace.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Tuesday was the calm in the midst of the statewide storm at one of the key sites for people to enroll for health insurance via MNsure, Minnesota’s version of the insurance marketplace.
“We left it open for our navigators to actually catch up on paperwork,” said Jessica Crowley, director of the Health Care Access Office at the Lake Superior Community Health Center. Crowley also is one of the site’s five navigators — individuals trained to help people understand the intricacies of shopping for their health insurance on a computer.
“It’s been crazy, and we haven’t been able to keep up on entering things,” Crowley said.
The craziness reflected a late surge of interest in MNsure, which is part of the Affordable Care Act’s effort to provide health insurance to the previously uninsured and underinsured. As website glitches frustrated people trying to enroll, the deadline to enroll for coverage on Jan. 1 was extended from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23, and then to Dec. 31.
Crowley and the other four navigators at the clinic near Denfeld High School in West Duluth had 200 appointments with individuals seeking health insurance in December, she said. The appointments typically lasted from an hour and a half to two hours. Although Crowley’s role was supposed to have primarily been in planning and coordinating, she found herself as booked with clients as the rest of the staff, she said.
In addition, some people were referred to navigators at CHUM, the Women’s Health Center and Community Action Duluth, Crowley said.
But navigators across the Duluth area have been equally busy, said Elizabeth Olson, program officer for Generations Health Care Initiatives. The Duluth nonprofit is spearheading efforts to advocate MNsure enrollment and improve on the city’s rate of people who are uninsured, currently at 11 percent.
“It’s all hands on deck, all day, every day,” Olson said.
That didn’t include the Duluth Public Library, where the navigator left for personal reasons, Olson said. A “mobile assister” from the Health Access Office had been able to fill some shifts there.
Enrollment numbers for the region won’t be available until next week, Olson said. But the apparent surge in interest locally reflects statewide numbers. Enrollment across Minnesota increased from 39,000 in mid-December to more than 53,000 as of Monday, the MNsure board of directors was told at a recent board meeting.
As of midnight, it was too late to get coverage for January. But there’s still time for succeeding months, with a final deadline of March 31. The deadline for coverage to begin in February is Jan. 15, Olson said, and appointments already have been set with navigators through next Wednesday.
Crowley said she doesn’t expect the crush to abate.
“The people we’ve seen so far are the people who are on top of things and realize: ‘Oh, I need insurance and I should get that done by January’,” she explained. “But there still those who are going to go: ‘Oh, I need insurance and I should have gotten that by January.’ I think there’s still plenty more to come.”
Some people still are making up their minds, Crowley added. Most of those who previously had insurance aren’t surprised by the premiums, she said, and some are discovering that they’ll pay less than in the past. But it’s a different story with those who previously were uninsured.
“Some people are saying: I can’t afford that, or I need to think about it,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.