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Bumpy start for MNsure

The launch of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often referred to as Obamacare, has dominated state and national headlines over the last few months.

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The ACA is a federal health care law requiring every American to have health insurance.

What’s the impact so far here at home?

Locally, it’s been bumpy, according to those who are helping people sign up for MNsure, Minnesota’s marketplace for health plans.

FROM INSURANCE AGENTS’ PERSPECTIVE Marilyn Boushley, an agent with Iverson Insurance in Alexandria, said the launch of MNsure has been a mess.

She said, “Technology has not been operational [on the MNsure website]. Systems that should have been in place since October 1 still are not fully functioning on a consistent basis.”

Boushley said she is seeing consumers frustrated that they don’t have a choice when it comes to assistance.

“Their income levels push them into certain levels of assistance.”

Her best advice for consumers: “Get an agent because it really does help weed through the system, and persistence is the key with MNsure.”

Keith Meyer, co-owner of Billmark’s Insurance in Alexandria, echoed the frustration with technology.

“I think right away it was really complicated and no one knew what to expect,” he said.

In particular, he said, even something like the Internet browser that consumers used to access the MNsure website had an impact on processing the information.

His best advice for consumers: “Take advantage of everything you can get. If Minnesotans don’t use the dollars that are allotted, it will go to [other] states. Don’t be too proud, come in and see if you qualify. If you don’t have the time or ability [to access the website], call a local agent. Many will be happy to help.”

Open enrollment for individuals and families runs through March 31, 2014.

SOCIAL SERVICES: GLITCHES, BUT MOVING AHEAD Douglas County Social Services has experienced MNsure challenges when enrolling people who were on medical assistance.

Mike Woods, director of Douglas County Social Services, said it’s been a difficult process.

“The [MNsure] rollout has obviously been hampered with computer glitches, software glitches as evidenced when you read the paper and watch the news.”

However, Woods said, “[Over] the last two to three weeks, they’ve upgraded the capability of the website so people should experience less dropping, less downtime.

“Having said that, thousands of people have gone through the MNsure system without difficulty, yet, there are still thousands who are having a great deal of difficulty.”

There are four county social services staffers who are dedicated to helping medical assistance-eligible people enroll in MNsure.

“I can tell you that some 500 people that used to be on MinnesotaCare in Douglas County are now rolled over and are on medical assistance as of January 1, 2014, with little or no drama. That seems to be working well,” Woods said.

“The vast majority of people who have gone through the system are good to go. It’s just not as simple as it used to be.”

He said staff is currently processing about 100 people who are new to medical assistance.

There are two bits of advice Woods passed along:

1. If you’ve applied and you received an e-mail or letter telling you you’re covered by medical assistance, the state is saying it will honor that statement; people will be covered retroactive to January 1, 2014.

2. For people on MinnesotaCare, you should be receiving a bill shortly, Woods said. When you get the bill, pay it and you’ll be covered back to January 1, 2014.

In the meantime, anyone with questions about MNsure can get answers by calling:

● MNsure Call Center, 1-855-366-7873, if you have not gone through the MNsure website application process.

● Member Services, 1-800-657-3739, if you have gone through the MNsure website application process.

● Minnesota Care consumers should call 1-800-657-3672.

● West Central Community Action is also offering assistance at 1-800-492-4805.

KNOW YOUR COVERAGE In preparation for the onslaught of MNsure billing, Douglas County Hospital and Alexandria Clinic administrators are asking local MNsure customers to do some research and prepare for their first medical visits in 2014.

First, they suggest consumers get to know their plan, specifically their level of coverage, deductible and area providers. There are local navigators, trained by the state, to help people decide which plan may be best for them. The list of local navigators is available at

Second, be sure to bring the most current health insurance card to your medical appointments. Although the card may look the same as an older one, a single digit can make a difference for the medical provider’s billing department.

Eddie Reif, Douglas County Hospital’s spokesperson, said the hospital and clinic haven’t noticed a rush of patients with the launch of MNsure; rather, they’re preparing for any billing confusion it may bring over the next few months.

KNOW YOUR PLAN The following tips were provided by Douglas County Hospital encouraging MNsure customers to know their plan.

● Get familiar with MNsure. There are numerous plans with different levels of coverage. The website ( features a list of local MNsure navigators who are trained by the state to help you decide which plan will best suit your needs. Local residents should check if Douglas County Hospital is a covered provider by their selected health insurance carrier. It’s better to be informed before a medical visit than be surprised by a bill after the fact.

● Bring your health insurance card. Be sure to bring your most current insurance card to your medical appointments and arrive early to be sure new information is updated with your provider.

● Know your coverage. Get familiar with your insurance coverage costs; things like deductible and co-insurance requirements.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

(320) 763-3133