MNsure sees spike in consumer visits since workweek started but says system remains stable

Minnesota's health insurance exchange has seen a spike in consumer visits in its first workweek since open enrollment began last weekend but is handling the load well, officials said Wednesday.

MNsure CEO Scott Leitz told the board of directors there had been no major technical issues and no unplanned downtime since the system went live Saturday morning for its second open enrollment season. After a "soft lead-in" Saturday and Sunday, he said, traffic on MNsure's website and calls to its help line surged Monday.

Unique page views went from about 80,000 on Saturday to about 60,000 on Sunday, then shot up to 140,000 on Monday before dipping back to about 80,000 Tuesday.

The system processed over 4,700 enrollments by 9 a.m. Wednesday, he said, including about 3,200 people who joined the public Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare programs for lower-income people, and about 1,500 who signed up for private insurance plans for individuals.

MNsure had a rocky debut last year with a largely untested computer system and understaffed call center. Several board members said they were pleased to see the overhauled system working better.

"I'm hearing the words 'wonderful' and 'MNsure' in the same sentence," board member Phil Norrgard said, drawing laughs.

The board also heard about some frustrations. Getting a forgotten password reset takes 20 to 30 minutes on the phone once a consumer gets transferred to an IT specialist. Some board members asked if that process could be simplified. MNsure staffers indicated it can't be for now. Another issue is that consumers don't immediately get an email or a clear on-screen confirmation that they've successfully enrolled. Chief Operating Officer Katie Burns said that function wasn't ready in time.

And while MNsure's data show that around 95 percent calls to the beefed-up contact center in recent days have been getting answered in five minutes or less, an Associated Press reporter spent 13 minutes on hold before reaching a person around 11 a.m. Wednesday. MNsure spokesman Joe Campbell said the center had an average wait Wednesday of 6 minutes, with the longest about 14 minutes. He said 89 percent were answered within 5 minutes.

Campbell said people who have problems with the website can also turn to MNsure's network of over 1,000 "assisters" for free in-person help.

However, the AP found a glitch with the new searchable assisters directory. While users can look for a broker or navigator who speaks their native language, if a user specifies English the search actually eliminates many English speakers. Searches worked better with the language set to "any." Campbell later reported the issue had been fixed.

The assisters network also includes fewer certified insurance agents who are licensed to sell policies than it did last year, a trade group leader told the board. Alycia Riedl, past president of the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters, said it listed 566 certified agents as of Wednesday, compared with 2,348 last January. She said it appears many decided the costs of getting trained weren't worth the amount of business brought in.

The MNsure website will be down for scheduled maintenance from 6 p.m. Saturday until 8 a.m. Sunday.