The start of open enrollment for the half million Minnesotans who don't get their health insurance from an employer or through public programs went "smoothly" last week, according to MNsure Media Relations Specialist Marie Harmon.
What a relief.
That's in stark contrast to past years and despite confusion and uncertainty this year over Minnesota's public health exchange, created under the federal Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare.
If computer glitches, too few people fielding phone calls, and other problems of the past have been resolved in year five of MNsure, Minnesotans can herald that as great news, as our state showing steadiness and service in the face of fidgeting and fumbling at the federal level.
"Things are looking better than ever, which is great," MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole assured during an exclusive interview in late October with News Tribune Editorial Board members. "I smile when I say that because we make progress every year, and this year is no different."
This year has posed some unique challenges, however.
After repeated failed attempts to repeal Obamacare, confusion over its very status has spread.
"There are people ... thinking that the Affordable Care Act went away, because they sort of pay attention to the news and don't pay attention to the news," Joe Loveland, a communications consultant for MNsure, told editorial board members. "Some people might think that it's gone."
It's not. While there may be unknowns about the future, support it or don't, Obamacare remains the law of the land and will remain unchanged through 2018.
Also causing confusion: insurance carriers coming but mostly going from public exchanges across the country; the unknown impacts of shifting enrollment caps; and, in Minnesota, the status of tax credits that have been saving Minnesotans real money. MNsure enrollees are saving about $7,000 statewide, on average. The savings in our corner of the state has been more like $7,700 a year.
Additionally on the confusion front, this year, the federal and Minnesota deadlines to sign up for coverage is shorter. Federal open enrollment ends Dec. 15. Minnesota's goes a month longer - but that's not what many are seeing on social media, where the national date has been publicized, even here, by those trying to make up for reduced federal spending to promote Obamacare.
"We're hearing a lot about all of the confusion, and (we're) trying to cut through that noise because people have big decisions to make," O'Toole said.
"It's a unique year in that there has been so much coverage of what might happen and what might not happen nationally," Loveland said. "There's a unique level of confusion over, 'How does that impact our situation in Minnesota?'"
The bottom, Minnesotans: if you buy health insurance via MNsure, don't delay getting online to sign up for coverage for 2018. Go to MNsure.org to compare plans and choose. If you need help, go to MNsure.org or insureduluth.org to find a "navigator" whose sole purpose is to assist. Get it done before the busy holiday season. Get it done with confidence that things this year are running "smoothly."