By Don Davis
Minnesotans have heard a lot about the state’s new insurance marketplace known as MNsure since it opened Oct. 1, but they still have plenty of questions.
For instance, 50 people at a meeting Thursday night in Woodbury about MNsure asked Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov questions ranging from whether people can buy insurance by telephone to whether she could guarantee personal information is kept private.
The questions were typical of meetings MNsure is holding around the state, and showed that some Minnesotans remain uncomfortable after the organization mistakenly sent a list of insurance agent information to an insurance broker.
“Our chief security officer for the state of Minnesota has said it is one of the most secure sites in the state of Minnesota and as secure or more secure than when you do online banking,” Todd-Malmlov said.
People who help Minnesotans sign up for insurance must take training about federal laws restricting use of medical information and undergo background checks. Those so-called navigators receive $70 for each policy they sell, regardless of which company’s policy it is.
MNsure is a mostly online program allowing Minnesotans to buy health insurance. While the public can get information online, telephone operators cannot sell the insurance, Todd-Malmlov said.
However, navigators can meet face-to-face with potential insurance customers and help fill out paper applications. They also can buy from insurance brokers who have passed certain tests.
The executive director also talked about income issues, which produced several questions.
If a person’s income rises or falls, she said, insurance customers may make adjustments in insurance premiums during the year, or at the end.
MNsure takes into account a customer’s income and family size and can provide immediate federal aid that could reduce policy rates.
A common question revolved around Medicare. Todd-Malmlov said people on Medicare cannot use MNsure.
Thursday night’s meeting was hosted by Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove, Sen. Susan Kent of Woodbury and Rep. Dan Schoen of St. Paul Park, all Democrats and MNsure supporters.
Republicans continued their opposition to MNsure.
“The number of questions unanswered still outnumber the ones answered,” said Kelly Fenton, deputy chairwoman of the state Republican Party, who was in the Woodbury audience.
Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters this week that MNsure’s early success is due to the fact that “we decided to go our own way.”
The federal version of the insurance marketplace, where people go online or seek phone or in-person help to buy health insurance policies, has been troubled by computer issues from the beginning. President Barack Obama promised to smooth over those problems.
MNsure started with some bumps, but since then the path has smoothed.
Policies bought on MNsure are among the least expensive in the country.
More than 40,000 people have visited the MNsure website, 19,000 accounts have been created and there are nearly 4,000 waiting to buy policies.
Policies must be bought by Dec. 15 for them to begin Jan. 1. Minnesotans have until the end of March to buy policies. In the future, enrollment for individuals will be open Oct. 15 to Dec. 15.
Small businesses may buy insurance for employees any time.
Insurance is available at mnsure.org. Minnesotans also may call (855) 366-7873 to get information about how to buy policies by telephone or in person.
“There is a lot of interest,” Dayton said of the new way to buy insurance.
While Republicans criticize MNsure, Dayton said it will take a year to know its real success.
“We are pioneering this whole undertaking,” he said, noting that Minnesota leads most other states.
Republicans say they think the cost of MNsure policies will be higher than they are now. They also question whether Minnesotans’ privacy will be protected.