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MNsure'e interim head encouraging enrollment

Scott Leitz doesn’t try to sugarcoat how bad the opening of MNsure, Minnesota’s health exchange, was last year.

On Monday, he recounted customer service horror stories “from the dark days of November and December” when about 20 percent of would-be applicants failed to successfully register and received error messages. That failure rate is now about 4 percent, said Leitz, who came on board as MNsure’s interim chief executive Dec. 18. He said help is now available for those who are having trouble.

With one week until the March 31 sign-up deadline, Leitz said the registration process is not perfect but is greatly improved. He stopped in Brainerd Monday, as part of the media tour designed to draw attention to the approaching deadline and let people know help is available if they have trouble signing up for MNsure.

“Give it another try, as soon as possible,” is his message to those who were frustrated by the glitches that plagued MNsure in the early days.

The March 31 deadline applies to most individuals, but doesn’t apply to small business owners or those who are enrolling in the Medicaid or MinnesotaCare health insurance programs. Exceptions are also made for those who are experiencing life events such as the birth of a child or the loss of employment-based health coverage.

Last fall, applicants with problems might have to wait on the phone for an hour or so to receive help. Now, he said it might take a few minutes and the wait time is expected to remain close to that level even as the deadline approaches.

After MNsure’s disastrous rollout, 20 additional MNsure employees were hired and assigned to the call center. In addition, a contract vendor was hired who added 100 call center people to help.

Leitz said software bugs prevented one-third of the applicants from successfully getting through MNsure’s system. That particular failure rate is now less than 1 percent, he said.

The problems customers are encountering now, Leitz said, are more of what was expected, such as assistance being needed with password resets. If problems are encountered he encouraged people to seek help from MNsure navigators or private insurance brokers.

“We think we’ve got a stable system,” said Leitz, who was a Department of Human Services assistant commissioner who managed the state’s Medicaid system, before being asked to take over MNsure. Leitz has a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and earned a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

MNsure official announced Monday the agency would work to help people get coverage and avoid a federal penalty even if their enrollment isn’t complete when the deadline expires March 31.

Leitz compared the policy to waiting in line to vote after the polls close.

Sometime this week, Leitz said he expects MNsure will reach its goal of signing up 135,000 people. Particular emphasis has been placed on events at locations such as bars, pubs and college campuses where young people can be encouraged to join the MNsure system.

Failure to sign up could result in a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of a person’s income, which ever is greater. In addition, for most consumers, there won’t be another chance to purchase individual health insurance policies until Nov. 15.

The technical glitches aren’t 100 percent eliminated, he said, but considerable progress has been made.

“We’re a long ways down the road,” Leitz said. “We’ll take a deep breath March 31. We have a lot of hard work (ahead).”

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or Follow on Twitter at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860