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MNsure CEO Allison O'Toole and Gov. MarkDayton talk to reporters Sept. 20, 2017, about health insurance. Don Davis / Forum News Service

MNsure sign-ups on pace for at least 5 percent growth

ST. PAUL — Health insurance sign-ups through MNsure, the state’s individual insurance marketplace, are off to a strong start in the first two weeks of open enrollment.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 14, 91,623 people had signed up through Minnesota’s exchange for the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Most of those sign-ups were from existing customers who renewed plans or who chose different coverage.

“We are off to a good start,” said Allison O’Toole, MNsure CEO, who noted that renewals were being completed more quickly this year. She expects overall MNsure enrollment to grow by at least 5 percent over this year.

This year, more than 100,000 Minnesotans got health insurance through MNsure. About 65 percent of those customers qualified for tax breaks to keep their insurance affordable.

Minnesotans have until Jan. 14, 2018, to buy insurance plans through MNsure. If they want coverage in place by Jan. 1, 2018, the purchasing deadline is Dec. 20.

So far, MNsure’s website and call center have not had any of the difficulties that plagued the system when it launched in 2013.

More than 400,000 people visited MNsure’s website in the first two weeks of open enrollment. Nearly 24,000 calls were made to the agency, and wait times were less than one second.

Despite those improvements, the agency’s leaders are looking for new ways to measure how well MNsure serves customers. An advisory committee recommended at MNsure’s regular board meeting Wednesday that the agency gather more data about interactions with customers, including if problems are solved after the initial contact.

“We are in a new league now, but we can always do better,” O’Toole said, noting how service has improved since the marketplace’s launch.

MNsure is also in the process of replacing part of its computer system. Specifications are being finalized and development should begin by year-end, with the new system in place before the 2018 open-enrollment season.

Despite smooth sailing so far this open-enrollment season, MNsure still faces uncertainty. Republicans have pushed to do away with the agency, arguing that premiums are too high and choices are dwindling for many customers.

To keep insurance affordable, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed creating a so-called “public option” that would allow Minnesotans to buy insurance from the state’s MinnesotaCare plan for low-income residents.

Republicans and Democrats teamed up earlier this year to approve a reinsurance program that will spend $542 million over the next two years to help insurers offset high-cost claims and keep premiums down.

The most uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act, of which MNsure is a part, is in Washington, where Republicans who control Congress and the White House want to repeal and replace the controversial law.

So far, they’ve been unable to agree on a way to do that, but this week Republican leaders said a tax bill working its way through Congress would include a repeal of the mandate that most citizens have health insurance.

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