MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota's state-run health insurance exchange wasn't ready for its anticipated debut Tuesday when the online marketplaces started going live elsewhere.
April Todd-Malmlov, executive director of MNsure, told reporters late Monday afternoon that officials wanted to make sure the system connected properly with federal computer systems and that it was secure before consumers could start using it to shop for coverage. MNsure officials expected to launch Tuesday afternoon.
Across the country, the portals at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul struggled to handle the volume of consumers Tuesday, the first day of a six-month open enrollment period. Federal officials said they were working to address the website problems and long call center waits as quickly as possible.
Roughly 300,000 uninsured Minnesotans are expected to buy insurance via MNsure. The delay was one of several glitches in MNsure's rollout that Todd-Malmlov announced Monday.
"Generally, anytime you go into a new enterprise there are things you expect and things you deal with that are a bit unanticipated," Todd-Malmlov said. "So we have always been planning to be up on October 1. We do need to do that in coordination with our federal partners, and we want to make sure that we are doing that in a planned and not-rushed way to make sure that everything is ready to go and working on Day 1."
Other problems include a partial list of approved outside "assisters" and "brokers" to help people sign up that won't be posted until Wednesday. She said the last phase of their required training didn't become available until last week, and that many have not passed required background checks. She said American Indians, many of whom qualify for special subsidies under the law, should wait a week before signing up because that part of the system isn't working properly.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, one of the leading critics of Minnesota's decision to set up its own health insurance exchange, said MNsure "built up a tremendous amount of performance pressure" by insisting all along that it would be ready the morning of Oct. 1, and that the launch delay made sense.
"I am really grateful that they are making it assured that they have security, that they have the proper connections with the federal government," Benson said.
MNsure has already come under fire for a data security lapse and for failing to include groups that work with minority communities in its initial plan for distributing federal grants to organizations that will aid in finding and enrolling the uninsured. On the positive side, MNsure boasts the lowest average premiums nationwide on three types of health plans offered under the overhaul.
Once the system is working, residents will be able to shop for insurance plans, open accounts, determine if they're eligible for financial assistance and sign up for coverage that will take effect Jan. 1. While consumers are required to have health insurance policies by then or pay penalties, Todd-Malmlov noted that open enrollment for the first year's coverage will run through March 31.
Todd-Malmlov said MNsure expected "a lot of interest in the site" Tuesday, but "we don't anticipate there will be a lot of enrollment in the first two weeks."